|Environmental Review Toolkit|
|NEPA and Project
|Section 4(f)||Water, Wetlands,
|Accelerating Project Delivery|
The purpose of the Judd Road Connector project was to address congestion and safety issues by:
The project was originally proposed in recognition of various deficiencies within the primary study area based on traffic forecasts, growth factors, and current design standards, and in order to provide a transportation facility that would be compatible with local land use plans, solve transportation problems, and minimize the social, economic and environmental impacts to the surrounding area. Its initial proposal was also due to public pressure and political support.
"An improved transportation network also means more potential for future economic development and job creation, particularly in those industries which must transport goods and materials"
–Raymond Meier, 47th Senate District (website)
How Project Development Advanced Through NEPA
The NEPA process for the Judd Road Connector project took a total of 31 months, from Notice of Intent (NOI) to Record of Decision (ROD). Two major studies that were conducted prior to beginning the NEPA process were a Project Development Study and a Major Investment Study (MIS). These two studies helped to facilitate the NEPA process significantly. Specifically, these studies helped to establish the project purpose and need as well as alternatives to be considered.
On May 24, 1984, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) approved a Project Initiation Request (PIR) for undertaking the Judd Road Connector Study. The intent of that study was to evaluate feasible alternatives for the project. The PIR was filed as the result of an earlier study of the Whitestown-New Hartford area by the Herkimer-Oneida Counties Transportation Study (HOCTS) Group. That earlier study, prepared at the request of the Town of New Hartford, indicated the existence of specific transportation related deficiencies in the Towns of Whitestown and New Hartford, and identified the need for a new highway connecting the Route 5/8/12 interchange to Judd Road. That study also led to the preparation of a Generic EIS.
A public meeting was held on June 16, 1987 to inform the public of NYSDOT's intention to study and develop solutions to the existing deficiencies. The Judd Road Connector Study, which concluded in 1994, evaluated various alternatives to address the transportation deficiencies identified in the project area. That study incorporated several separate elements:
The first of the four technical memoranda presented information regarding a variety of land use, socioeconomic, environmental and transportation information for the study area. The second memorandum presented similar information to that included in the first memorandum, but based on anticipated conditions during two separate future years. The third memorandum elaborated upon problems and needs identified from data presented in the first two memoranda. The final technical memorandum studied three potential build alignments and identified a recommended alternative, known as the "Railroad" Alternative, that best met project objectives and minimized impacts.
During the preparation of the Judd Road Connector Study and as the result of an initiative promoted by the NYSDOT Regional Office, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to outline the objectives and parameters of the proposed Judd Road Connector project was developed and agreed to by a local Congressman, officials from the study area towns and village, the County and NYSDOT on August 11, 1993. The purpose of the MOU was also to obtain the cooperation and consensus of the involved municipalities, agencies, and officials on the scope, schedule and process required for implementation. This project was felt to have been long delayed and needed by the area for economic development, congestion relief along the local village highway network, and connectivity to the Whitestown residential areas, Oneida County Airport, and its industrial park. The MOU was an attempt to isolate the need, justification, and timeline for the project.
Various public meetings were held throughout the project scoping phases comprising the Judd Road Connector Study, with a scope closure meeting held on June 14, 1994. This scope closure signaled the beginning of the preliminary design phases.
Building on the findings from the Judd Road Connector Study, a Major Investment Study (MIS) was prepared in August 1995 by NYSDOT with the assistance from the HOCTS Group. The MIS was a description of the public and agency involvement and the consideration given to transportation alternatives and strategies including mass transit, the upgrading of existing infrastructure, and environmental sources for the Judd Road Corridor project. It ranked the project's contribution to congestion/operational relief, safety, infrastructure system and user savings, modal integration, system linkages, economic development, job retention/creation, consistency with existing master plans, environmental sensitivity, community cohesion, and community support. The study concluded that even though there is public transportation available within the study area, the general public finds it preferable and more convenient to use private transportation for the purposes of local travel. It was further concluded that the Transportation Demand Management option can not suffice as a stand-alone action.
In the preliminary design phases, the alternatives were further developed and evaluated for their merit and impacts. Through a series of open houses and public meetings beginning in November 1995, the alternatives were presented to the public and various agencies. Those alternatives presented at the meetings were the same alternatives that were being considered in the Draft EIS.
NEPA EIS Process
Key Factors of the NEPA Process
Within one month of the issuance of the NOI in October 1995, two open houses were held in the Town of Whitestown and the Village of New York Mills. The first formal public meeting on the project was held in December 1995 to discuss the alternatives that were being evaluated in the EIS. A second formal meeting was held in May 1996 to discuss revisions made to the alternatives based on the comments received during the first public meeting. Following publication and distribution of the Draft EIS document in September 1997, a public hearing pursuant to NEPA was conducted in November 1997. Approval of the Final EIS occurred in April 1998 and the ROD was approved shortly afterwards in May 1998.
Throughout the NEPA EIS process, routine public information meetings were held by the NYSDOT, combined with numerous smaller communications with various stakeholders and property owners. Topics included: alignment, type and configuration of interchanges; whether or not to build a noise wall; driveway configurations; right-of-way acquisitions; lane configurations; scheduling of construction; and landscaping and utility coordination. The majority of the public was overwhelmingly in favor of the project and had been anticipating the project for a number of years. The Town Board of Whitestown and the Village Board of the Village of New York Mills both unanimously voted for the construction of this project during their regular meetings. Nationally, the project was given high priority by Congress, which was demonstrated by the availability of specified funds. The Judd Road project was earmarked in TEA-21 for $30.3 million in funding. The project was also considered a high priority by the State, which was demonstrated by the project's inclusion in the five-year, $34.2 billion State Transportation Program (STP).
Some project controversy did arise with a couple of businesses and town offices in terms of concerns related to changes in accessibility, since the new alignment would cause traffic to bypass some local roads. Other smaller conflicts dealt with disgruntled property owners over the settlement of right-of-way takings. All of these conflicts were resolved by demonstrating that the Preferred Alternative had the least amount of overall impact.
The Preferred Alternative fully addressed the congestion, cost-effectiveness, and safety issues motivating the project. A new four-lane, divided, controlled-access highway would extend from the existing Route 5/8/12 interchange in New Hartford at its eastern end to Judd Road at its intersection with Halsey Road in Whitestown at its western end, a distance of approximately 3.9 miles. The project would include interchanges at Route 5A and Middle Settlement Road, and at-grade intersections with Clarks Mills Road and Judd Road / Halsey Road. New bridges would be constructed at Old Campion Road, Route 5A, and Middle Settlement Road.
The eastern portion of the new highway would include auxiliary lanes, thereby making the highway six lanes with a median in that area. Most of the eastern portion of the new highway would be located along the abandoned West Shore railroad grade, before deviating from that embankment at a point west of Route 5A. Additionally, the Preferred Alternative would include new sidewalks, the construction of a multi-use trail if deemed feasible, and other local improvements. The Preferred Alternative is a variation of the "Railroad" Alternative previously recommended during the MIS process. NYSDOT considered this alternative the "only practicable alternative finding" since it provided an optimal balance between environmental, social, and economic impacts.
Other Alternatives Considered
Aside from the Preferred Alternative, two other alternatives were seriously considered in the EIS, including a No-Build Alternative and another build alternative. Similar to the Preferred Alternative, this other build alternative was also a variation of the "Railroad" Alternative recommended during the MIS process. The only difference between this other build alternative, known as the North Alignment Alternative, and the Preferred Alternative, which was known as the South Alignment Alternative, was that this alternative would pass the Oneida-Herkimer-Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) campus on a northerly alignment while the Preferred Alternative would pass the campus along a southerly route.
Based on the evaluation of the No-Build Alternative, which included only minor improvements due to routine maintenance and safety operations, it would not provide any significant congestion or safety improvements to the study area. While it was not selected, the No-Build Alternative was used as the baseline to evaluate improvements resulting from the two build alternatives considered in the EIS. The North Alignment Alternative satisfied the transportation needs as well as the South Alignment Alternative, but resulted in greater environmental impacts and, therefore, was not selected.
Environmental and Other Issues
There were several issues associated with the Preferred Alternative. These included approximately 12 business and 18 residential relocations, wetland impacts, loss of farmland, noise impacts, impact on a historic archaeological site, and adverse visual impacts.
Approximately 2.06 hectares (ha) of wetlands would be impacted by the construction, of which, 1.01 ha were also under the jurisdiction of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Together, the agencies worked with the NYSDOT to adequately and efficiently address these impacts through mitigation. This also included the impacts to the Mud Creek floodplain from the single point interchange construction.
In terms of cultural impacts, there were a few historical disturbances. This included the Hobby Farm site and the frontage of a structure on Henderson Street, which was eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The New York Museum of Anthropological Survey conducted a field survey for cultural resources in 1993. A Cultural Resources Reconnaissance Survey Report, consisting of a review of historic maps and a field survey including test pits, was prepared and submitted to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in 1994. Additional surveys were undertaken and reported in Addenda to the SHPO in the Fall of 1995 and Spring of 1996.
While Section 4(f) was not required, mitigation for the Hobby Farm site was an approved implementation of a Data Recovery Plan. This was coordinated with the State Historic Preservation Officer and the Cultural Resources Survey Report of 1993. The objective of this plan was to document the evolution from near-subsistence agriculture to capitalistic commercial agriculture in a 19th century urban fringe location.
Another impact was on farmland. The construction of this project affected some soils that were protected from conversion to non-agricultural uses under the Farmland Protection Policy Act (FPPA). Some of these properties were identified as being actively farmed.
The Preferred Alternative would also result in a few noise and visual impacts as well. Noise impacts were identified at an apartment complex, a golf course, and some residential areas. Only the apartment complex was proposed to receive a noise barrier, whereas the other areas were found to be not feasible for noise barrier construction. Visual impacts were predicted on the immediate and surrounding project corridor as well as for the users of the proposed facility. Mitigation for these impacts included landscape plantings.
In sum, the issues that arose during the NEPA process were addressed efficiently because of effective coordination between key agencies and the legwork done by the previous studies.
One small phase of the project has been fully constructed. This phase included some intersection mitigation offsite and a small diversion of Campion Road to allow the building of a bridge. NYSDOT is currently in the process of acquiring right-of-way and detailing the plans. The second construction contract is located on Commercial Drive, designed to have the proper lane widths available for when Judd Road is complete. Construction on that contract has been completed up to Binder and has all the lanes open. Work outside of curb and pavement top course will be completed by the Summer of 2003. The last phase includes all of the rest of the project and is at the 40% design level, which includes the setting of the alignments.
The Judd Road Connector Project showed that, despite several environmental concerns, the NEPA process could be expedited by:
These factors are discussed in detail below.
Utilizing Previous Studies to Build Momentum for the NEPA Process
The shortened timeframe of the NEPA process was largely due to the preparation of the Judd Road Connector Study in 1994. Spending the preliminary resources in doing such an analysis provided access to valuable assessment data and information, thus promoting the Major Investment Study in 1995. Utilizing these two earlier studies as the basis for further study, the momentum created from their preparation permitted the NEPA process to run as efficiently and promptly as it did. Each step of the overall project development process improved upon the number and type of alternatives and benefits, thereby creating a speedy NEPA review for the project. In addition, the NEPA process experienced no delays from any unanticipated surprises or discoveries in the process, since all or most of the issues had been identified previously.
Key Agencies Involved in the NEPA Process
There was a formal "streamlining" agreement negotiated specifically for this project. This coordination was the Judd Road Connector Project Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in August 1993 by U.S. Representative Boehlert, Oneida County, the Towns of New Hartford and Whitestown, the Village of New York Mills, and Region 2 of New York State DOT. This MOU helped organize the direction and control of the project. The interagency coordination between federal, state, and local agencies was a valuable asset.
The expedient flow of this project was also due to the federal counterparts working with state officers in "real time" support and guidance. FHWA's approach was to assist NYSDOT by offering advice on the planning, conduct, and review of the environmental studies while the agency was preparing the EIS. This support included making in-person visits in order to move changes forward quickly.
Leveraging External Support
"I think the main lesson is consistent and proactive political support by ALL LEVELS of elected officials."
–Douglas Conlan, FHWA
The national level support demonstrated by the financial assistance provided through TEA-21 funds was critical to the project's expedient NEPA review process. This funding assured local agencies and other parties involved that the project would not become held up due to resourceshortages. Additionally, the allocation of these funds gave the project high priority status, helping the project move through the NEPA process faster. At a local level, there was no organized opposition to the project.