Environmental Review Toolkit
NEPA and Project Development

NEPA Documentation

Environmental Assessment (EA)

When the significance of impacts of a transportation project proposal is uncertain, an environmental assessment (EA) is prepared to assist in making this determination. If it is found that significant impacts will result, the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) should commence immediately.

Environmental assessment

Means a concise public document for which a Federal agency is responsible that serves to:

  1. Briefly provide sufficient evidence and analysis for determining whether to prepare an environmental impact statement or a finding of no significant impact.
  2. Aid an agency's compliance with the Act when no environmental impact statement is necessary.
  3. Facilitate preparation of a statement when one is necessary.

Shall include brief discussions of the need for the proposal, of alternatives as required by section 102(2)(E), of the environmental impacts of the proposed action and alternatives, and a listing of agencies and persons consulted.

-- 40 CFR 1508.9

FHWA must approve an EA before it is made available to the public. EAs do not need to be circulated but they must be made available to the public through notices of availability in local, state, or regional clearinghouses, newspapers and other means. Depending on the FHWA-approved state public involvement procedures, a public hearing may or may not be required. A 30 day review period is required but may be reduced in rare circumstances.

After public comments are received and considered, a determination of the significance of the impacts is made:

  • If at any point in the process of preparing an EA it is discovered that the project would result in significant impacts an environmental impact statement (EIS) must be prepared.
  • If, after completing the EA, it is evident that there are no significant impacts associated with the project, a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) may be prepared.

Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)

If it is determined that there will be no significant impacts a FONSI will be prepared to conclude the process and document the decision. A FONSI is issued when environmental analysis and interagency review during the EA process find a project to have no significant impacts on the quality of the environment. The FONSI document is the EA modified to reflect all applicable comments and responses. If it was not done in the EA, the FONSI must include the project sponsor's recommendation or selected alternative. No formal public circulation of the FONSI is required, but the state clearinghouse must be notified of the availability of the FONSI. In addition, FHWA recommends that the public be notified through notices in local newspapers.

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