|Environmental Review Toolkit|
|NEPA and Project
|Section 4(f)||Water, Wetlands,
|Accelerating Project Delivery|
One of the area roadways found to be operating under severely constrained conditions was S.R. 423, also known as the John Young Parkway, located in the City of Orlando and unincorporated Orange County. Existing levels of service (LOS) were poor (generally "E" or "F") during the mid-1990s and, it was concluded that the absence of any major capacity improvements would worsen the situation significantly by 2020. As a result of these trends and issues, the 2020 Orlando Urban Area Transportation Study (2020 OUATS), which was a regional transportation study conducted in 1995, analyzed and recommended an extension of the John Young Parkway as well as its expansion from four to six lanes.
The OUATS study, along with the previously published John Young Parkway Extension Preliminary Engineering Report and the Orange County Design Traffic Report, led to the particular improvements to the John Young Parkway that were ultimately proposed by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in cooperation with local government agencies and the metropolitan planning organization for the region. The project that was advanced through the EIS process had a project area bounded on the south by SR 50, on the north by SR 434, and on the east and west by an approximate half-mile buffer centered along the John Young Parkway.
As highlighted above, the John Young Parkway in the northwest portion of Orange County was experiencing very poor operating conditions in the mid 1990s, which were projected to further worsen in the future due to continuous development and population growth. The primary purpose of the John Young Parkway Expansion Project was to address deficient roadway capacity, which has resulted in poor levels of service along the existing roadways. Other purposes included the need to establish a more efficient roadway network, maintain roadway safety and enhance local access.
How Project Development Advanced Through NEPA
The NEPA process for the John Young Parkway project took 28 months, from Notice of Intent (NOI) to Record of Decision (ROD). Earlier traffic studies had, however, indicated the need for the project, thereby setting the stage for new engineering studies and the environmental review process.
In 1994, the John Young Parkway Extension Preliminary Engineering Report and the Orange County Design Traffic Report were prepared by Orange County. In addition to identifying the transportation issues within the corridor, the County assessed environmental issues such as wetlands, wildlife, noise, air quality, cultural resources, etc., to a limited extent as well. The County analyzed the corridor, developed numerous alternatives and made specific recommendations to address the capacity deficiencies and other issues found. The 2020 OUATS report, prepared in 1995, enhanced these studies by modeling the future conditions of the area on a broader spectrum. All of these studies were vital to the process of including the John Young Parkway project in the Metropolitan Orlando Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for Fiscal Years (FY) 1998-99 through 2002-03.
Advanced Notification Packages
The recommendations from the above-mentioned studies served as the beginning point for developing the proposed project presented in the "Advance Notification" (AN) package, which was distributed to local, regional, state and federal officials and agencies in February 1996 and then, again, in December 1997. The project limits changed between completion of the earlier studies and the release of the "AN" packages. The purpose of these packages was to give officials and agencies an opportunity to comment on the proposed project and to solicit comments regarding potential impacts. The use and distribution of "AN" packages is a standardized procedure utilized by FDOT.
Based on comments received from the "AN" package distribution, the FHWA Florida Division determined that the project would require an EIS level of analysis and documentation. This decision set the stage for conducting both the next level of engineering analysis for the project and the associated environmental analyses. It should be noted that the "AN" process was a factor influencing the timeliness of the EIS process.
NEPA EIS Process
Key Factors of the NEPA Process
The NEPA process for the John Young Parkway project began with the issuance of a Notice of Intent in May 1998. The ability of FDOT and FHWA to advance the project relatively quickly through the NEPA process is credited to the contributions of the earlier studies, the early action process and strong interagency coordination. There was also an absence of significant natural environmental impacts associated with the project, although the human environment was more complicated and controversial due to the new highway extension.
Interagency coordination and consultation during the NEPA process did not operate under an existing programmatic agreement or memorandum of understanding. There were no actual "streamlining"agreements involved, nor any project-specific agreements negotiated for this project. However, a Project Development and Environment Manual that serves as an informal coordinating and procedural document between FHWA and FDOT was used on an ongoing basis. This manual helped outline agencies' roles and responsibilities.
Key Agencies Involved in NEPA
Although there were no formal project-specific agreements developed for this project, the FHWA Florida Division and FDOT agreed to use a concurrent "review / revise / resolve" methodology throughout the entire project development phase. The concurrent "review / revise / resolve" methodology was specifically applied to the sections of the EIS as they were prepared by FHWA, FDOT and FDOT's environmental consultant, as well as to the partnering agencies such as the City of Orlando, Orange County, and other civic groups.
The Draft EIS was signed in November 1999, followed by a public hearing in December 1999. In May 2000, six months after the release of the Draft EIS, the Final EIS was signed, followed by approval of the ROD in August 2000.
The Preferred Alternative consisted of widening the 3.5-mile long John Young Parkway between SR 50 and Lake Breeze Drive from four to six lanes, with a new 1.0-mile long alignment segment to be constructed to SR 434. Most of the existing roadway widening was proposed to occur within the existing right-of-way. The new segment would begin just south of the existing SR 500 / Lake Breeze Drive intersection, turning to the north and bridging over SR 500 and the Florida Central Rail Line. The new alignment would then proceed towards the east, crossing through the northwest corner of Florida Rock Industries property, and then continue northeast through the Trotwood Park residential area to connect with the SR 424/ SR 434 intersection. In addition to the widening and extension on new alignment, the Preferred Alternative included new sidewalks and bike lanes, traffic control measures, and an access management strategy.
Together, these strategies fully addressed the capacity deficiency, safety, and access issues motivating the project, while minimizing environmental impacts. This alternative was selected as the Preferred Alternative after the comments received on the Draft EIS and Public Hearing.
Other Alternatives Considered
Aside from the Preferred Alternative, six other alternatives were fully analyzed in the EIS. They consisted of: the No Build Alternative; the Transportation System Management (TSM) Alternative; Improvement of Existing Facilities Alternative; and three other Widening / New Alignment Alternatives. Neither the No Build Alternative nor the TSM Alternative adequately addressed the capacity deficiency, safety, or access issues motivating the project.
As a Build Alternative, the Improvement of Existing Facilities Alternative would have widened the John Young Parkway from SR 50 to SR 500, but would not have included the extension of the highway to SR 434. This alternative would also have involved a widening of two local roadways, including one widened to eight lanes. This alternative would have a continued poor level of service, would not provide adequate capacity or roadway network efficiency, would result in substantial impacts, and would be inconsistent with an existing FDOT policy to avoid construction of eight-lane roadways.
The other unselected New Alignment Alternatives were similar to the Preferred Alternative in that they included widening the John Young Parkway from four to six lanes between SR 50 and the Lake Breeze Drive / SR 500 intersection, and consisted of a new segment from just south of the existing Lake Breeze Drive / SR 500 intersection to the SR 424 / SR 434 intersection. The primary difference between each of the unselected alternatives and the Preferred Alternative was the actual alignment of the new segment, which led to varying community / environmental impacts.
Although the other new alignment alternatives generally fulfilled the project purpose as well as the Preferred Alternative, they resulted in more significant community and/or environmental impacts. Therefore, they were not selected as the Preferred Alternative.
Environmental and Other Issues
There were several environmental issues associated with the Preferred Alternative. These included 40 residential and business displacements, wetland impacts, noise impacts, impacts to wildlife and habitat, and water quality impacts. Of these issues, residential and business displacements, wetland impacts, and noise impacts were the most significant. Due to the need for acquiring 11.8 acres of land for right-of-way for the new segment, a total of 34 residential units and 6 businesses would be relocated. The new construction would also unavoidably impact 0.19 acres of wetlands. Minimal encroachment into a 100-year floodplain would potentially have minor adverse effects as well. Federal noise abatement criteria were exceeded at 11 dwelling units. However, according to the Record of Decision, all of these issues were proposed to be satisfactorily mitigated and, therefore, did not remain subjects of controversy.
At the beginning of the NEPA process and prior to selection of the Preferred Alternative, there were some local controversies that needed to be overcome. The majority of the nearby property owners and the general public were not initially in support of the project due to a fear that this project would indirectly lead to the construction of low income housing if the Ben White Raceway Facility was demolished, as originally anticipated. This concern was based on the fact that the City of Orlando had an independent interest in approving such a development in the area, which would be given greater impetus if one of the other alternatives being considered had been constructed through the raceway property, thereby providing the opportunity to change the use of the adjacent land parcels.
Orange County had also previously determined in its own study that the best alternative for the roadway extension was to bisect the raceway property. As a result of the City's and County's support for an alternative that would bisect the Ben White Raceway, a lawsuit by the Rosemount Homeowners' Association and other adjacent homeowners against the City and County in opposition to the demolition of the raceway and construction of a public housing proposal was threatened.
Other issues addressed as part of the overall alignment controversy included the potential splitting of the Trotwood Park residential area, residential and business relocations, and concerns about noise impacts. The Preferred Alternative, as identified in the EIS, minimized the overall impact to community cohesion for the western portion of the Trotwood Park area by avoiding the need to separate the residential area. The number of relocations and noise impacts were also minimized with the Preferred Alternative.
By the end of the NEPA process, both the County and the City were in support of FDOT's new alignment which was proposed to completely miss the raceway, rather than the one that they originally preferred which would have bisected it. This outcome fostered the removal of the lawsuit from the table. As a result, most residents expressed their support for the project and continued to provide a variety of suggestions for modifications. EPA also contributed comments to FDOT during the comment period by asking for marked bike lanes for the affected neighborhoods, a request to which FDOT agreed.
As of this writing, the John Young Parkway final design process is at the sixty percent stage of completion. In preparing its final plans, FDOT has been adhering to the concepts stated in the preliminary engineering design /analysis and environmental evaluations conducted during the project development and EIS process.
Effective July 1, 2003, there will be a fully implemented Memorandum of Understanding document between twenty-two agencies that will represent a Florida environmental streamlining initiative for future projects. This document, the Efficient Transportation Decision Making (ETDM) Process, includes FDOT, FHWA, nine federal agencies, ten state agencies, and the Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council. This process fulfills the spirit of Section 1309 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) passed by Congress and the Memorandum of Understanding calling for "Environmental Streamlining." The Project Development and Environment Manual was a broad informal procedural version of this soon-to-be-implemented document.
Several factors helped to expedite the NEPA process for the John Young Parkway Project, including:
These factors are discussed in greater detail below.
Capitalizing on Earlier Studies
In several respects, the 1994 and 1995 transportation and engineering studies laid the ground work for the two Advanced Notification Packages, as well as the EIS process. The data from the Preliminary Engineering Report, the Design Traffic Report, and the 2020 OUATS supplied the agencies with vital information about the proposed alternatives, in terms of their relative ability to meet purpose and need as well as the potential environmental implications associated with each alternative. Due to the extensive information prepared and presented in each of these earlier studies outside of the actual NEPA process, the amount of new data collection and research required during the preparation of the EIS was somewhat less than it would have otherwise been.
"Any concern towards the project was ironed out at public meetings."
–Deborah Wolfe, FHWA
Early Action Attributed to the Advance Notification Process
The Advance Notification (AN) process is the means through which other Federal, State, and local agencies are informed of a proposed action by FDOT. It is also the process of giving notice of FDOT's intent to apply for Federal aid on a project. The AN process provides the initial opportunity for Federal, State, and local agencies to become involved early in the project development phase and share information with FDOT concerning a proposed action and the geographic area potentially impacted. It is one mechanism used by the State of Florida to determine a proposed transportation improvement's consistency with Florida's Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP) for Federally-funded actions and its compliance and consistency with local government comprehensive plans approved by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) under Chapter 163, Florida Statutes (F.S.). The AN process is required by the President's Executive Order 12372 and the Governor's Executive Order 95-359.
"The advanced notification packages solicit views from other agencies ahead of time and is a part of the Project Development and Environment Manual (PD&E)."
–George Hadley, FHWA
The AN process is initiated by FDOT at the commencement of the Preliminary Engineering phase of a project. It begins with the preparation of the AN package by the District Environmental Management Office (DEMO) which is forwarded to the State Clearinghouse (SCH) in the DCA. In addition, the DEMO must send copies of the AN to the appropriate Regional Planning Council (RPC), Water Management District (WMD), and other local, State and Federal agencies at the local, regional, and national level. Duplication of the SCH's distribution is avoided, since the DEMO's mailing list is included in the package forwarded to the SCH. Distribution of the AN by the SCH is made to central units of State government that may have plans, programs, or projects affected by FDOT's proposed action. A 45-day comment period (up to 60 days if requested in writing by the SCH) is afforded to allow for distribution and receipt of agency responses.
Strong Interagency Coordination and Cooperation
"From the beginning, the FDOT and FHWA realized the scope and efforts required for the project. They agreed to work together as a single team."
–Tianjia Tang, FDOT Project Manager
One of the major factors in the NEPA process was the cooperative and active effort between the coordinating key players. A strong partnership between the Federal, State, and Local agencies and the consultant group allowed for little time lost in memos and meetings. The concurrent "review / revise / resolve" methodology utilized in this project provided a foundation of success and encouraged a proactive team approach.
James Bassett, P.E.