127.28 Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
The following guidance provides MoDOT’s plan to integrate or link the planning process to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 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 can lead to a more seamless and less duplicative process. This guidance outlines how MoDOT includes the appropriate NEPA elements in its planning process along with the 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 Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021, known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).
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 scoping phase of project delivery results in a decision on the design concept, scope and study area, along with a resulting decision on the environmental classification (categorical exclusion, environmental assessment or environmental impact statement). Work done to avoid and/or plan for area resources during the planning phase can then be directly transferred to the subsequent NEPA process.
- 1 127.28.1 Introduction to the PEL Process
- 2 127.28.2 PEL Legislation
- 3 127.28.3 Legal Requirements
- 4 127.28.4 The PEL Process, Roles and Responsibilities
- 5 127.28.5 How to Conduct a PEL Study
- 5.1 127.28.5.1 Scope of Work and Methodology
- 5.2 127.28.5.2 Who Will Be Involved? Agency Coordination and Public Involvement
- 5.3 127.28.5.3 Steps for Conducting a PEL Study
- 5.3.1 127.28.5.3.1 Define Study Area
- 5.3.2 127.28.5.3.2 Logical Termini and Independent Utility (LT/IU)
- 5.3.3 127.28.5.3.3 Purpose and Need
- 5.3.4 127.28.5.3.4 Incorporating Transportation System, Safety, and Operations Data
- 5.3.5 127.28.5.3.5 Alternatives Evaluation and Development
- 5.3.6 127.28.5.3.6 Environmental Screening
- 5.3.7 127.28.5.3.7 Next Steps/Action Plan
- 5.4 127.28.5.4 Documentation Required
- 5.5 127.28.5.5 PEL Questionnaire
- 5.6 127.28.5.6 Technical Memos or Reports
- 5.7 127.28.5.7 Components of a PEL Report
- 6 127.28.6 Transitioning from a PEL Study to the NEPA Process
- 7 127.28.7 Resources for Additional Information
127.28.1 Introduction to the PEL Process
Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) is a collaborative approach to transportation decision making that bridges planning and NEPA. This facilitates decision makers to (1) consider environmental, community, and economic goals early and (2) use the information, analysis and products to inform the environmental review process. A PEL study is used to meet agency requirements while expediting project delivery by formalizing the following activities prior to beginning the NEPA process:
- Early communication, coordination, and collaboration including obtaining early input from stakeholders, agencies, and the public
- Identify key socioeconomic, environmental, and historic preservation constraints to create a baseline
- Establish a preliminary purpose and need, including goals and objectives
- Develop and screen alternatives
- Determine risks and prepare potential mitigation strategies
- Develop a plan to transition from PEL to NEPA
The PEL process offers flexibility to either complete a full PEL study or the individual elements of the PEL process. Before a PEL study is conducted, a pre-scoping process determines the reason for the study and expected outcomes of the study, including why it’s being conducted and what questions will be addressed.
127.28.1.1 The PEL process and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
There are four FHWA Coordination Points required during the PEL study:
- The reason for the study and desired outcomes.
- The operations analysis methodology, purpose and need, goals, objectives
- Alternative’s evaluation and documentation
- Finalization of the PEL study report and questionnaire
The adoption and use of the PEL study in the NEPA process is subject to a determination by FHWA that 10 conditions have been met. These conditions are outlined in 23 United States Code (USC) 168(d). See 127.28.3 Legal Requirements.
Coordination with FHWA shall be initiated at appropriate times in the study and according to the timelines outlined in MoDOT and FHWA’s partnering agreement. An email from MoDOT Environmental and Historic Preservation Office to FHWA can be used to document coordination at each point, at the same time, it can be less formal if FHWA has commented on and been involved with the process in question.
127.28.1.2 When or When NOT to Conduct a PEL Study
Conducting a PEL study provides multiple benefits to many agencies and stakeholders, including MoDOT and FHWA. A PEL study can help inform decisions and streamline the planning process into NEPA. A PEL study is an eligible item under MoDOT’s Design Bridge and Consultant (DBC) Program or State Planning and Research (SPR) Program. Discussions with MoDOT’s Transportation Planning Division can help determine when and how to fund the PEL study using SPR money.
Before a PEL study is conducted, a pre-scoping process is carried out to determine the reason for and expected outcomes of the study, including why the study is being conducted and what question(s) will be addressed. When determining the need for a PEL, the District shall coordinate with Central Office (Env/HP and DLE) staff to discuss the reason for the PEL, timelines, funding, etc. This important step will help prevent carrying out studies that may not be a good fit for a PEL.
Benefits to carrying out a PEL study include:
- - Development of a purpose and need statement that transfers to the NEPA process
- - Identifying and engaging affected stakeholders and agencies early and throughout the process
- - Building working relationships with stakeholders and agencies
- - Identifying key resources earlier in the process
- - Reducing duplication of work in later NEPA processes
- - Recommending project phasing and action plans
- - Preliminary cost estimates
- - Assisting with Class of Action determination prior to project development
Sometimes projects are not suited to a PEL study for one reason or another. A PEL study should not be conducted when:
- - Solutions have already been identified
- - The NEPA process will not begin within the 5 years of completion of the PEL study
- - The project has construction funding
- - Other types of studies will provide the information needed
If a project is being proposed for a PEL, communicate with MoDOT’s Environmental and Historic Preservation Section to help guide that decision, who will also communicate with FHWA.
127.28.2 PEL Legislation
The 2005 surface transportation funding and authorization bill titled The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) included several provisions intended to enhance the consideration of environmental issues and impacts within the transportation planning process, and it encouraged the use of the products from planning in the NEPA process. Specifically, Section 6001, Environmental Considerations in Planning, requires certain elements and activities to be included in the development of long-range transportation plans, including:
- Consultations with resource agencies, such as those responsible for land-use management, natural resources, environmental protection, conservation and historic preservation, which shall involve, as appropriate, comparisons of resource maps and inventories;
- Discussion of potential environmental mitigation activities;
- Participation plans that identify a process for stakeholder involvement; and
- Visualization of proposed transportation strategies where practicable.
Statewide and Metropolitan Planning Regulations
In 2007, FHWA issued new planning regulations that eliminated the requirement for a major investment study and implemented provisions enacted by SAFETEA-LU. In its place, the regulations created a new optional procedure for linking transportation planning and NEPA studies. These procedures are contained in 23 CFR 450.212 (statewide planning), 23 CFR 450.318 (metropolitan planning), and Appendix A (Linking the Transportation Planning and NEPA Processes). FHWA provided further direction on using corridor and subarea planning to bridge the transportation planning and NEPA processes in its April 2011 guidance document, Guidance on Using Corridor and Subarea Planning to Inform NEPA.
Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21)
This 2012 funding bill promoted accelerated project delivery and encouraged innovation through the increased use of programmatic approaches and planning and environmental linkages by creating statutory authority for PEL in 23 USC 168. The authority defined conditions for adopting or incorporating by reference, or both, a planning product in the NEPA process.
Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST Act)
This 2015 funding bill amended 23 USC 168 and 23 USC 139 and refined the authority to carry out PEL, which was incorporated into joint FHWA/Federal Transit Administration (FTA) planning regulations in May 2016 under 23 USC 139(f)(4)(E)(iii). This allowed for elimination of certain alternatives from detailed study during NEPA if they were analyzed in prior planning work.
Following the FAST Act, FHWA and FTA jointly issued a final rule updated 23 CFR 450 planning regulations related to PEL reflecting the passage of MAP-21 and the FAST Act. This further clarified the flexibility of PEL and that a variety of PEL methods may be used, and it does not limit the use of any particular PEL authority.
127.28.3 Legal Requirements
The adoption of planning products in NEPA is subject to the legal requirements set forth in MAP-21, codified in 23 USC 168, and refined by the FAST Act. The following conditions must be met to adopt planning products, including PEL studies:
- (1) The planning product was developed through a planning process conducted pursuant to applicable Federal law.
- (2) The planning product was developed by engaging in active consultation with appropriate Federal and State resource agencies and Indian tribes.
- (3) The planning process included broad multidisciplinary consideration of systems-level or corridor-wide transportation needs and potential effects, including effects on the human and natural environment.
- (4)During the planning process, notice was provided through publication or other means to Federal, State, local, and tribal governments that might have an interest in the proposed project, and to members of the general public, of the planning products that the planning process might produce and that might be relied on during any subsequent environmental review process, and such entities have been provided an appropriate opportunity to participate in the planning process leading to such planning product.
- (5) After initiation of the environmental review process, but prior to determining whether to rely on and use the planning product, the lead Federal agency has made documentation relating to the planning product available to Federal, State, local, and tribal governments that may have an interest in the proposed action, and to members of the general public, and has considered any resulting comments.
- (6) There is no significant new information or new circumstance that has a reasonable likelihood of affecting the continued validity or appropriateness of the planning product.
- (7) The planning product has a rational basis and is based on reliable and reasonably current data and reasonable and scientifically acceptable methodologies.
- (8) The planning product is documented in sufficient detail to support the decision or the results of the analysis and to meet requirements for use of the information in the environmental review process.
- (9) The planning product is appropriate for adoption and use in the environmental review process for the project.
- (10) The planning product was approved not later than 5 years prior to date on which the information is adopted pursuant to this section.
127.28.4 The PEL Process, Roles and Responsibilities
The PEL process is conducted prior to NEPA and identification of any funding, and can be used to characterize issues, priorities, and concerns in a project area. Federal grant money can be used to conduct a PEL. A PEL study for a corridor could identify multiple potential phases or subsequent projects to be prioritized for implementation.
The PEL can also provide context for future NEPA decisions, such as creating a basic description of the environmental setting, determining methodologies for analysis, mitigation, etc. The process can also help inform the class of NEPA required for the future projects. The PEL study should cost less and take less time than the NEPA process. The NEPA process can then adopt the planning products, per the statutory authority (23 USC 168), to inform the NEPA process.
The following participants should be involved in a PEL study core team:
- FHWA – For projects that intend to move into the NEPA process, it is critical that the FHWA Area Engineer and the FHWA Environmental Specialist be involved in the PEL process and included as a core team member(s). FHWA must be involved in critical milestones such as purpose and need, alternatives considered and advanced, environmental evaluation, and next steps or action plan.
- MoDOT –
- District staff – Manage and lead the PEL study for MoDOT, similar to other studies.
- Central Office staff – (Environmental and Historic Preservation, Design Liaison, etc.) Provide support and oversight on process requirements for the district and act as a liaison to FHWA. All coordination with MDNR-SHPO shall occur through the appropriate MoDOT HP staff, not from the project core team.
- Communications staff – be point of contact for public involvement processes.
- Other Federal, State, and local agencies – Federal, state, and local agencies should be involved throughout the PEL process, particularly during the purpose and need development, constraint identification, and in defining the preliminary range of alternatives and elimination of unreasonable alternatives, as applicable. Agencies can help identify environmental issues and methodologies for assessing those issues.
- If State right-of-way is involved, MoDOT should be a partner or reviewer with local entities carrying out a PEL study. A Core Team Member on the local team would be valuable.
- Tribes – Native American tribes should be involved early and continuously in the PEL study. MoDOT Environmental and Historic Preservation office or the MoDOT PM can coordinate directly with the tribes during the PEL study. If consultation is deemed necessary during the PEL study, FHWA is required to coordinate/consult with the tribes and all correspondence must come from their office.
- Public – Early and continuous involvement of the public throughout the PEL study is needed if the project is expecting to advance into the NEPA process. The public must have the opportunity to review and comment on the planning products generated from the PEL study, to be incorporated or adopted by reference into the NEPA process. These include the purpose and need development, constraint identification, defining the preliminary range of alternatives, and elimination of unreasonable alternatives, as applicable.
- Others – Other participants may include MPOs, elected officials, non-profits, etc. specific to a project need.
127.28.5 How to Conduct a PEL Study
|Figure 3: Kansas City District PEL Study Fact Sheet.|
PEL studies that directly transition into project development and NEPA are the most common type of PEL studies. However, PEL studies can also be smaller studies that look at one or two elements to support a specific need. Examples of this use would be a PEL study to specifically deliver right-of-way mapping and survey, or an access management plan.
Initially, the PEL study district project manager must establish an interdisciplinary core team. The core team must include Central Office staff including MoDOT environmental and historic preservation representatives and the Design Division Liaison. These team members will coordinate directly with FHWA on behalf of the project manager (see 128.28.4).
For projects anticipated to move into the NEPA process, it is critical that FHWA be involved in the PEL process. FHWA must, in the least, be involved in critical milestones (purpose and need, alternatives analysis, environmental evaluation and next steps). All products must have the following statement appended to use the product for future NEPA processes.
Missouri Department of Transportation anticipates incorporating recommendations made as part of the PEL study into future NEPA studies, per Title 23 of the US Code, Part 168.
There are 5 general steps to conducting a PEL study:
- Identify existing and future transportation systems.
- Identify the purpose and need of the study.
- Develop and evaluate alternatives.
- Carry out an environmental evaluation.
- Identify the next steps for implementation.
127.28.5.1 Scope of Work and Methodology
Developing a Framework and Methodology Memo is required at the beginning of the PEL study. This sets the expectations of the study for everyone involved. Procedures should be established early in the study between the lead agencies and consultant partners on what processes and consultation techniques are used to ensure the products will be valid for incorporation into the NEPA process.
127.28.5.2 Who Will Be Involved? Agency Coordination and Public Involvement
The PEL should describe how applicable federal, state and local agencies, tribes, and the public were involved; what specific activities were conducted; and what agency and public comments were received. The PEL needs to document how regulatory requirements were met, such as public notice given (if the 23 USC 168 authority is used) and how participation by federal and state resource agencies and Native American tribes was accomplished.
The PEL study public involvement plan (PIP) should identify Stakeholders, the public involvement activities, agencies with jurisdiction, local agencies, resource agencies, Tribes, and others in the plan. A variety of public involvement techniques can be used during the PEL study but should be context-sensitive and tailored to the study area (EPG 129).
|Figure 4: I-64 PEL public involvement video|
127.28.5.3 Steps for Conducting a PEL Study
127.28.5.3.1 Define Study Area
The Study Core Team works to define the study area early in the study, typically during purpose and need development based on study goals. The district will define the study area limits, in coordination with the environmental section of the Design Division, including logical termini, that should be large enough to accommodate the possible range of alternatives which could be considered throughout the study. The necessary study area will be unique to each PEL study and will vary in size based on length of the project, scope of possible improvement, the identified needs and the known physical constraints (126.2.1). Defining the study area also helps determine who the key decision-makers and stakeholders are for the PEL.
The study area is the basis for reviewing existing and future conditions, other programmed or planned projects, previous surveys, and local plans such as land use plans, bike/ped plans, transit, railroad, etc. Depending on the size of the study area, a larger review area may be needed for traffic or socioeconomic resources but might be reduced to a smaller review area for resources like habitat, schools, etc.
127.28.5.3.2 Logical Termini and Independent Utility (LT/IU)
Part of using the PEL effectively includes providing parts that translate directly into future NEPA studies. Providing analysis on logical termini and independent utility (LT/IU) sections will help further define the study area. Especially for project-focused PEL studies, any phase of the project identified may or may not have LT/IU attributes but may have phased construction limits. The identification of LT/IU sections will contribute to the recommended project phasing and action plan, laying the groundwork for future NEPA analyses. The action plan or next steps will need to identify LT/IU for each project phase. LT/IU means that a project could function even in the absence of other projects in the area (23 CFR 771.111).
127.28.5.3.3 Purpose and Need
Defining the purpose and need, goals and objectives comes early in the PEL process. The purpose and need should be developed using corridor history and other specific plans in the area, like neighborhood plans, access management plans, safety plans or analysis, pedestrian, and bicycle plans. This process can be iterative, and the purpose and need can change during the project process. The core team establishes a vision for the system with the input of State and local governments, environmental, regulatory, resources agencies and the public, to help to define transportation goals and objectives for realizing that vision. The team will decide which needs to address in the study and which to be deferred.
127.28.5.3.4 Incorporating Transportation System, Safety, and Operations Data
The PEL study will also describe the existing and future transportation system within the study area. The PEL purpose and need is tied to the needs of the system and informs the alternatives development. The NEPA study can incorporate any systems and operations data (if in the appropriate timeframe), including information about traffic volumes, patterns, or crashes. The data can also be used in screening alternatives.
127.28.5.3.5 Alternatives Evaluation and Development
Criteria must be developed to screen alternatives. Alternatives that are unreasonable or infeasible should be eliminated from detailed consideration. Alternatives that are carried forward for further evaluation are termed reasonable or recommended alternatives rather than “preferred” or least environmentally damaging alternative or “LEDPA”. All steps to eliminate or carry forward alternatives shall be documented, including methodologies, evaluation criteria, assumptions, etc. Summarize the reasons for eliminating alternatives and the process, referring to relevant sections or pages of the PEL study, such as lack of meeting the purpose or needs. The analysis must include public, environmental, regulatory, resource agency and others’ feedback and involvement. It is important to remember that the final determination regarding eliminated alternatives and the proposed action is made during the NEPA process.
Like NEPA, the PEL study should evaluate a No-Action Alternative, carried forward through the evaluation as a baseline for comparison. The goal of the process is to find alternatives that best meet the purpose and need while minimizing impacts to the human and natural environment.
127.28.5.3.6 Environmental Screening
The level of detail for environmental impacts may vary, depending on resources, study area, budget and goals of the PEL study. Typically, a desktop/windshield level analysis describing key resources in the study area is completed, as well as a site visit of the study area. Additionally, describe potential avoidance, minimization, and mitigation strategies for the future NEPA process. Mapping resources will help compare impacts in alternatives, in addition to providing the baseline in the NEPA process. The goals should be to identify resources that may affect the future NEPA actions, schedules, or costs and understand potential impacts on key resources.
Planning products to identify these key resources can include regional development and growth analyses; local land use, growth management, or development plans; and population and employment projections. Other types of information, analyses, and products from the planning process include geographic information system (GIS) overlays showing past, current, or future conditions of the natural and built environment; environmental screenings; descriptions of watersheds; demographic trends and forecasts; projections of future land use, natural resources, parks, known development; and the outputs of natural resource planning efforts, etc. The narrative should clearly reference where products were obtained and what products were used. Correspondence with agencies and the public can also be used to document information obtained.
127.28.5.3.7 Next Steps/Action Plan
The PEL study for a corridor project could result in the identification of potential phases or projects that can be then prioritized for implementation. The phases or projects can recommend a NEPA class of action based on analysis completed and documented in this part of the plan. The document should also discuss what remaining steps are needed to move a recommendation forward to construction.
There is no requirement for fiscal constraint in a PEL study or in the projects identified in the next steps. An action plan can provide prioritization of needs, potential funding, interim projects and potential sponsors.
127.28.5.4 Documentation Required
The PEL process and results must be documented at the end of the study. The body of the PEL should provide detailed information on analysis and decisions, in a format that can be included in the NEPA document as an appendix or by reference. The PEL document should have enough information to show that the study fulfills the requirements set forth in 23 USC 168, section 2, for adoption of planning products for future use in NEPA processes. The typical components of a PEL report varies depending on the needs or goals of a particular study. Components that should be in all PEL reports include:
- executive summary
- purpose and need
- alternatives development and evaluation
- recommended alternative(s)
- affected environment, consequences, and mitigation strategies
- agency coordination and public involvement
- an action plan or next steps
127.28.5.5 PEL Questionnaire
The PEL Questionnaire is a tool to ensure that planning information and decisions are properly documented for later use in the NEPA process. The questionnaire should be a guide for the study, providing questions and issues to consider that may be addressed. PEL studies should address only the relevant portions of the questionnaire.
Best Practice: The questionnaire should be used as a guidance document, completing sections as the study progresses rather than an after-the-fact tool. See CDOT PEL Handbook.
127.28.5.6 Technical Memos or Reports
Components of the PEL study can be documented in technical memos or reports or one large document. Smaller memos or reports can be easier to identify and use for other processes. Technical memos can be easier to reference and make available for any single NEPA analysis.
127.28.5.7 Components of a PEL Report
Q: What is the format for a PEL?
- A: The main components of a PEL study should include an Executive Summary, Purpose and Need, Alternatives Development and Evaluation, Recommended Alternatives, Affected Environmental, Consequences and Mitigation Strategies, Agency Coordination and Public Involvement, and an Action Plan.
- A: The format should be easy to append to the NEPA documentation or by reference.
Q: What is a reasonable level of detail for resource screening for a PEL study?
- A: A PEL study does not need to include the same level of detail required in the NEPA documentation. For instance, the natural resource analysis is typically at the desktop level and field work is done during the NEPA process.
Q: What type and extent of public involvement is needed from Federal, State, local, Tribal, regulatory, and resource agencies in order for planning-level decisions to be more readily accepted in the NEPA process?
- A: Early and continuous involvement of local, environmental, regulatory and resource agencies is recommended. MoDOT may inform the tribes since it is a planning study. Without early coordination, environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies are more likely to expect decisions made or analyses conducted in the transportation planning process to be revisited during the NEPA process. Moreover, Federal, Tribal, State, and local environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies are able to share data on particular resources, which can play a critical role in determining the feasibility of a transportation solution with respect to environmental impacts.
Q: What is the procedure for communication and decisions from FHWA?
- A: The lead agencies (MoDOT and FHWA) jointly decide, and must agree, on what processes and consultation techniques are used to determine the transportation planning products that will be incorporated into the NEPA process. Typically, coordination is through MoDOT Central Office staff to FHWA.
Q: What questions should be considered in determining if the PEL study can progress into NEPA?
- A: How much time has passed since the PEL study was completed? Was sufficient public involvement completed? Does it meet the 10 conditions? Was FHWA involved and did they concur at the appropriate points?
127.28.6 Transitioning from a PEL Study to the NEPA Process
The PEL study can provide a solid foundation for NEPA scoping, including the project purpose and need, alternative recommendations, and an action plan for how the project(s) can be advanced. The PEL study doesn’t reduce the level of documentation required by NEPA but allows the process to be completed more efficiently. The PEL Questionnaire provides things to consider in transitioning to the NEPA process.
Any document incorporated by reference must be “reasonably available for inspection by potentially interested persons within the time allowed for comment.” Incorporated materials must be cited in the NEPA document, and their contents briefly described, so that the reader understands why the document is cited and knows where to look for further information. “To the extent possible, the documentation should be in a form such as official actions by the MPO, State DOT, or public transportation operator and/or correspondence within and among the organizations involved in the transportation planning process”. (Guidance in 23 CFR 450, Appendix A).
Identify during NEPA initiation that the PEL products are intended to be used. Determine if there is significant or new information or circumstances that have been discovered since the PEL study was completed.
The PEL study provides information needed to inform the NEPA class of action by determining the possibility that the action is likely or not to have significant impacts. The adoption and use of the PEL is subject to a determination by FHWA that the specific conditions have been met. Under 23 USC 168 condition 10, the PEL study must be completed no later than 5 years before the date at which the information is adopted in the NEPA review. By completed, it is meant the date of the letter of acceptance from FHWA or the date the PEL was submitted to FHWA, whichever is later.
127.28.6.1 Scope of Work
NEPA studies that follow a PEL study should be scoped with an understanding of what information is available and how it is going to be used in the NEPA study. The following list provides a good base for the NEPA scope:
- Identify what PEL products are intended to be used
- Determine if there is significant or new information or circumstances that have been discovered since the PEL study was completed
- Identify any gaps in the PEL study that needs to be further defined
- Identify alternatives that should be carried forward and why
- Identify any issues of concern brought up during the PEL process from federal, state, local, public or tribes
- Identify what resources were evaluated or not evaluated and mitigation strategies discussed
- Provide a clear connection between the decision made in the PEL study and those to be made in the NEPA process
- Explain the next steps to convert the PEL study purpose and need into a project-level purpose and need statement
- Discuss any follow-up steps identified in the questionnaire
127.28.6.2 Purpose and Need
If the NEPA study is more limited in scope than the PEL, the NEPA purpose and need can draw on information contained in the PEL report. Conversely, if the PEL study and NEPA study are similar, information related to the purpose and need can be used directly as long as no major changes have occurred since the data were gathered.
The PEL study often provides identification of logical termini and independent utility that can be validated and incorporated directly into the NEPA study.
127.28.6.3 Incorporating TS&O, Alternatives, and Environmental Analysis
Transportation system and operations data can be incorporated into the NEPA study if the PEL study is less than 5 years old and if the 20-Year planning horizon for relevant MPO or Statewide travel demand model has not change.
The evaluation and elimination of alternatives during the planning process can be incorporated by reference into the NEPA document under certain circumstances. The analysis must have a rational basis for screening out alternatives and been thoroughly documented, including through the public involvement process. This record should be made available for public review during the NEPA scoping process. Regarding alternatives, use the term “recommended” instead of “preferred” when transitioning from the PEL study to the NEPA study.
- CEs do not require an alternative analysis, but any avoidance and minimization alternatives must be discussed when using the recommended alternative.
- EAs require consideration and analysis of an Action and a No-Action Alternative only, and do not require an agency to analyze all reasonable alternatives. Reference the PEL study for any alternatives not carried forward into the EA study. For alternatives carried into the EA, document why they were dismissed during the NEPA study and discuss and avoidance and minimization alternatives.
- An EIS must consider, in detail, a reasonable range of alternatives and the No-Action alternative, regardless of how recently the PEL was adopted, also documenting why alternatives were dismissed and discuss avoidance and minimization alternatives.
If the PEL study is more than 5 years old by the time the NEPA study begins, the information should be reviewed to determine whether the results are still usable, new data is needed, or conditions have changed. This includes re-assessing all the alternatives that met the purpose and need to confirm that conditions that affected the analysis and recommendations have not changed. Final determination of alternatives is made during the NEPA process.
127.28.6.4 Incorporating Input
Agency and public input during the study is not only useful to further the NEPA study scoping but can be used to accelerate the NEPA process because the key stakeholders and agency representatives are already familiar with the project. Subsequent public involvement during NEPA shall follow the Public Involvement requirements under EPG 129.
Best Practice: Studies from other DOTs recommend extensive stakeholder coordination.
Best Practice: Create a stakeholder list to carry from PEL to NEPA.