|Supported by National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Council
of Environmental Quality regulations, tiering is a flexible option that project
sponsors can use to organize decision making for large transportation projects.
Tiering integrates the planning and NEPA processes in two phases: a first tier
focused on broad, overall corridor issues, such as general location, mode choice,
and area-wide air quality and land use impacts, and a second tier focused on site-specific
impacts, costs, and mitigation measures. The first tier usually results in an
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision (ROD). The early interagency
coordination inherent in tiering allows resource agencies to provide input before
broad-based decisions are made. As a result, tiering can improve interagency communication
as well as expedite the delivery of projects.
Interstate 70 stretches across over 200 miles
of Missouri and intersects almost every major north-south highway in the state.
Is Tiering Right for You?
To determine if tiering is appropriate for
a project, consider the following:
- The scale of the project. Tiering works well for large projects
that are not so complex that tiering adds unnecessary layers of work.
- The funding level of the project. Smaller projects may not have
the resources to support tiering.
- The variation in corridor needs. Tiering may be cumbersome for
projects with a variety of corridor needs and add no value for projects where
a simple, untiered EIS would be adequate.
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration
(FHWA) Missouri Division are using tiering to address the long range needs of
a 200-mile section of Interstate 70 (I-70) in their state. MoDOT chose to use
tiering in order to involve and inform the public about project decisions, to
address problems before final decisions were made, and to decide promptly whether
or not to build a parallel facility. The I-70 tiering process will take approximately
four years to complete, rather than the six to seven years complex corridor studies
typically take in Missouri.
Overall Corridor Decision Making Expedites the Process
MoDOT and FHWA focused in the first tier on studying strategies for the entire
corridor. Since overall corridor issues were addressed upfront and detailed environmental
studies were not conducted too early in the process, MoDOT and FHWA can focus
their limited time and resources on analyzing project-specific impacts and issues
in the second tier. Earlier discussions will not need to be revisited as broad-based
decisions were made in the first tier.
Overall Corridor Decision Making Improves Impact Analyses and Mitigation
By studying the collective impacts along the entire corridor in the first tier,
MoDOT and FHWA lessened the risk of dividing potentially impacted environmental
resources. This helps to prevent one project subsection from impacting another
part of the same resource in an adjacent subsection. In addition, opportunities
were created to combine mitigation efforts for project subsections. As a result,
the second tier will improve and enhance the impact analyses and mitigation efforts.
In the second tier, MoDOT and FHWA will study the impacts and alternatives of
the first tier strategy for seven corridor subsections, allowing them to address
local community concerns and environmental issues in each subsection. If second
tier environmental studies occur close to project construction, the need for further
studies will be lessened.
Tiering Garners Early Resource Agency Input and Improves Working
The key to successful tiering is acceptance of the process upfront by all involved
agencies. MoDOT and FHWA met with state and Federal resource agencies early to
discuss tiering the I-70 project process and to foster working relationships based
on trust. Involved agencies agreed upfront on the:
- Scope and extent of information in the first tier document.
- Extent of evaluations that would occur for each potential impact.
- Decision making points in the process and the timing of those decisions.
- Process for dividing the project into subsections of independent utility with
logical termini for the second tier evaluations.
By the time the first tier Final EIS was completed, state and Federal resource
agencies were already familiar with the document and in agreement regarding the
seven subsections of independent utility and their termini for study in the second
tier. The strong commitment of state and Federal resource agencies in Missouri
is helping the I-70 tiering process proceed smoothly.
What's Next? I-70's Second Tier
In March 2002, MoDOT and the FHWA Missouri Division began the second tier studies
by reviewing first tier decisions for their completeness and appropriateness.
They are also beginning to analyze in more detail the selected first tier strategy
and to expand their public involvement and outreach activities. Second tier studies
are scheduled for completion in the summer of 2004.
State Tips for Tiering
- Define project needs and outcomes upfront to determine if tiering is appropriate.
- Define expectations and garner full commitment to the tiering process upfront
with all involved agencies.
- Explain the nature of first and second tier decision making to the public.
Keep them informed of project decisions and gather their input early in the process.
- Integrate other regulatory requirements (such as Section 404 and Section 106)
into the tiering process for further streamlining.
- Conduct an overall inventory of resources in the first tier so that second
tier studies can identify specific impacted resources.
- Look beyond subsection termini to adjacent subsections in the second tier
to ensure that one project does not impact another part of the same resource in
an adjacent project.
- Ensure that first tier decisions do not restrict the consideration of alternatives
for other foreseeable improvements.
I-70 is a frequently traveled corridor that intersects almost every major north-south
highway in Missouri. Opened in 1965, I-70's safety has become a concern as traffic
continues to grow. In 1999, MoDOT conducted a feasibility study to document the
condition of the 200-mile stretch of I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis.
MoDOT launched the I-70 Improvement Study in January 2000 to evaluate methods
of improving the safety and efficiency of travel on I-70. After several months
of analysis and review of public input, MoDOT identified widening and reconstructing
the existing corridor as its preferred approach. The I-70 Improvement Study is
a First Tier Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and was completed in October
2001. The ROD was published in December 2001.
The second tier, Improve I-70, was launched in the spring of 2002 and focuses
on seven coordinated but independent studies in distinct geographic areas of the
I-70 corridor. The location, design, environmental impacts, and costs associated
with the widening and reconstruction strategy selected in the first tier are being
analzyed in detail. MoDOT and FHWA anticipate producing two EISs, four Environmental
Assessments, and one Categorical Exclusion.
For more information, visit http://www.improvei70.org/.