127.28 Linking Planning and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

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This article provides MoDOT’s plan to integrate useful National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) information into the transportation planning process. The overall concept in linking planning and NEPA is to move from a clear set of prioritized needs, which emerge from the planning phase, to a project scoping phase. Although the planning phase precedes NEPA in the project development process, NEPA elements considered during the planning phase lead to a more seamless and less duplicative process. This article outlines how MoDOT includes the appropriate NEPA elements in its planning process along with the associated training, documentation and resource agency coordination that makes linking the two phases possible. This article also documents MoDOT’s efforts to meet the planning requirements of the 2005 Highway Appropriation Bill, known as Safe, Accountable Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

MoDOT processes and products are guided by the Engineering Policy Guide (EPG). This article is not a substitute for guidance in other EPG articles but it references the EPG articles that specifically pertain to the linking of planning and NEPA processes for state transportation providers.

MoDOT’s policies develop transportation solutions that streamline project development, account for regional plans, integrate knowledge of resources and ecosystem planning and ultimately provide needed and cost effective transportation projects. The project scoping phase results in a decision on design concept, scope and study area along with a resulting decision on the environmental classification (categorical exclusion, environmental assessment or environmental impact statement) for the NEPA project development process. Work done to avoid and/or plan for area resources during the planning phase can then be directly transferred to the subsequent NEPA process.

To enhance environmental and multimodal considerations during the design concept and scope phase and provide a foundation for the subsequent NEPA process, MoDOT has the following processes in place as part of its planning phases. The Design Concept and Scope Phase utilized for state-initiated projects is illustrated in Fig. 127.28, Linking Planning and NEPA.

Fig. 127.28
An easily printable version of Fig. 127.28 is available.

Ensuring that initial transportation planning considers environmental and cultural resources MoDOT:

1) establishes interdisciplinary core teams for major planning projects. The core team includes MoDOT environmental and historic preservation representatives at the planning stages during development of project concepts. Notes and information developed during the planning process become part of the environmental and historic preservation record,
2) uses broad environmental and historic preservation information to create a baseline of existing conditions and constraints,
3) identifies community goals by examining comprehensive plans in urban areas and through community outreach efforts during development of the MoDOT Long Range Plan. These goals are refined and verified through public involvement during the Design Concept & Scope project phases,
4) includes community goals alongside transportation goals in planning documents, e.g. MTIAs and purpose and need statements. The documents will include statements about community resources and related values as part of the project goal,
5) includes environmental factors in the prioritization of projects. The potential need for compensatory mitigation during the project is considered and weighted against a project during the prioritization process,
6) explores a range of alternatives to meet transportation needs, by providing an appropriate rationale for the elimination of alternatives that meet the NEPA and Clean Water Act Section 404 1(b) requirements for alternatives analysis and by considering alternatives such as building new lanes, adding to existing lanes, retiming signals, adding interchanges and providing other transportation modal choices, and
7) passes final documents from the planning process, e.g. MTIA documents and/or preliminary purpose and need statements, to the environmental and historic preservation section of MoDOT for integration into the NEPA documentation.

Ensuring that resource/regulatory agencies are involved in the planning stages of project development MoDOT and/or metropolitan planning organizations:

1) invite environmental stakeholders to collaborate as described in Section 6001 of SAFETEA-LU. The degree of stakeholder involvement in project development depends on the nature of the project and the environmental issues in a local area.
2) invite the participation of environmental resource agencies on core teams for projects that entail significant environmental issues following the intent of agency involvement in Sections 6001 and 6002 of SAFETEA-LU. Agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) may want to participate in review of the preliminary alternatives analysis to inform core team members whether the analysis will meet their regulatory requirements.
3) conduct interagency meetings yearly, or as deemed necessary, to discuss over-arching issues for planning, NEPA, and regulatory permitting. MoDOT presents and discusses any transportation needs on the horizon for planning and periodically includes and updates information describing the planning process for resource agencies.

Ensuring that MPOs have a working understanding of linking planning and NEPA and general environmental and cultural principles MoDOT:

1) periodically includes training during MPO conferences on the integrated process, NEPA, and scoping checklists,
2) maintains linking planning and NEPA information on MoDOT’s internet website for easy access to the planning process, prioritization factors, and environmental and cultural resources processes,
EPG Environmental Studies gives general discussion about the environmental and historic resources in Missouri that are considered during the project development process.
EPG 127 MoDOT and the Environment gives the MoDOT process for considering and including natural and human environment in project development.
EPG 138 Project Development Chronology describes the general project development process.
EPG 121.2 The Planning Process describes the planning process in detail.
The Planning Framework for Transportation Decision Making explains MoDOT’s planning framework for guiding future planning and decision-making.
EPG 127.1 Request for Environmental Services guides the project manager through an environmental and historic preservation review process to gain information on resources in a project area.
3) and provides the following key messages to MPOs.
  • Earmarked projects are not exempted from NEPA requirements.
  • Final design, anything beyond the amount of design needed to fulfill the NEPA process, cannot commence until the NEPA document is complete. Designing beyond the needs of the documentation process could compromise the alternative selection process and thus federal funding.
  • NEPA must also be complete before any physical project work commences. Removing buildings or clearing and grubbing of vegetation for example, could compromise the resources or diminish the effectiveness of mitigation to avoid, reduce or compensate for impacts outlined in the final NEPA document.

In addition to MoDOT’s established process for linking planning and NEPA, MPOs from two major metropolitan areas have established policies, practices and resources that follow the linking planning and NEPA goals. These programs integrate the linking processes into a larger body of policy and practice. Listed in the remaining paragraphs of this document are the general goals of those plans, specific plans that are the linking elements of NEPA to the planning framework, and references to the specific policies.

East-West Gateway Council of Governments (EWGCG) – St. Louis Area

The EWGCG staff working with stakeholders developed the Regional Transportation Plan 2040, adopted June 2011. This plan has ten focus areas or principles:

1) Preserve and Maintain the Existing System
2) Support Public Transportation
3) Support Neighborhoods and Communities Throughout the Region
4) Foster a Vibrant Downtown
5) Provide More Transportation Choices
6) Promote Safety and Security
7) Support a Diverse Economy Throughout the Region
8) Support Quality Job Development
9) Strengthen Intermodal Connections
10) Link Transportation Planning to Housing, Environment, Education and Energy

As part of their Link Transportation Planning to Housing, Environment, Education and Energy focus area, EWGCG has a list of five strategies to integrate resource information into transportation planning. The following strategies are the most specific to achieving linking planning and NEPA in Regional Transportation Plan 2040.

1) Employ the LEAM model to analyze likely development patterns associated with different transportation network scenarios and analyze ecological impacts associated with those scenarios.
2) Use the regional ecological framework to identify and prioritize environmentally sensitive areas and develop mitigation strategies to protect, restore, and enhance areas or mitigate for unavoidable damage.
3) Monitor the regulatory environment for indications of inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions in transportation planning and consider the impacts of climate change on the transportation system in terms of risk of destruction and impact on operations.
4) Support the St. Louis Regional Clean Cities program in pursuit to reduce petroleum consumption through the expansion of alternative fuel infrastructure, increased fuel economy in vehicles and idle reduction measures.
5) Coordinate with the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development, which integrates transportation, environmental and housing planning with an emphasis on including hard to reach populations (low-income, minority and limited English proficiency).

The State of the System and Technical Supplement to Regional Transportation Plan 2040 is also available.

The Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) – Kansas City Area

MARC developed an integrated set of programs, policies and data to use in the protection of natural resources under Chapter 10 of their Transportation Outlook 2040, adopted June 2010. The following strategies are included in Transportation Outlook 2040.

1) Implement the Clean Air Action Plan – a plan to reduce ozone-forming emissions on a voluntary basis. The plan contains four categories of emission reduction strategies: electric power-plant controls, diesel-engine retrofits, public educations and long-term initiatives to promote sustainable development. This plan is designed to achieve emissions reductions both in the near and long term.
2) Implement MetroGreen – an interconnected system of public and private natural areas, greenways and trails linking communities throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area.
3) Develop and Implement a Regional Climate Protection and Adaptation Plan – tackle reducing greenhouse-gas emissions because it will reduce the region’s impact on global climate change. Federal climate change and energy legislation is poised to change the way we plan transportation systems.
4) Implement Recommendations Outlined in the Linking Environmental and Transportation Planning Action Plan.
5) Make More Efficient Use of Existing Roadways through Operational Improvements and Strategies to Reduce Vehicle Trips – transportation management techniques fall into two general categories: 1) transportation system management and, 2) transportation demand management.

Details of MARC’s Transportation Outlook 2040 are available.

MARC also received a FHWA Eco-Logical grant to develop a Linking Environmental and Transportation Planning Action Plan, adopted in May 2009. From that process a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was written to be signed by MARC, FHWA, MoDOT, KSDOT and a number of resource agencies and local governments. The MOU states that signatory institutions will pursue actions and practices to:

1) continue participation in a collaborative regional planning process,
2) align transportation planning and funding processes,
3) integrate environmental consideration in the transportation planning processes,
4) promote livable communities by coordinating transportation and land use,
5) identify, develop and share resource data and
6) use regional mitigation strategies to avoid and minimize impacts, mitigate for local, regional and global impacts, use an ecosystem approach, coordinate with other eco- system initiatives, and use technology for analysis.

Details of MARC’s Eco-Logical implementation are available.