§ 771.111Early coordination, public involvement, and project development.
(1) Early coordination with appropriate agencies and the public aids in determining the type of environmental review documents an action requires, the scope of the document, the level of analysis, and related environmental requirements. This involves the exchange of information from the inception of a proposal for action to preparation of the environmental review documents. Applicants intending to apply for funds should notify the Administration at the time that a project concept is identified. When requested, the Administration will advise the applicant, insofar as possible, of the probable class of action and related environmental laws and requirements and of the need for specific studies and findings which would normally be developed concurrently with the environmental review documents.
(2) The information and results produced by, or in support of, the transportation planning process may be incorporated into environmental review documents in accordance with 40 CFR 1502.21 and 23 CFR 450.212 or 450.318.3
3 On February 14, 2007, FHWA and FTA issued guidance on incorporating products of the planning process into NEPA documents as Appendix A of 23 CFR part 450. This guidance, titled “Linking the Transportation Planning and NEPA Processes,” is available on the FHWA Web site at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov or in hard copy upon request.
(b) The Administration will identify the probable class of action as soon as sufficient information is available to identify the probable impacts of the action.
(c) When both the FHWA and FTA are involved in the development of a project, or when the FHWA or FTA acts as a joint lead agency with another Federal agency, a mutually acceptable process will be established on a case-by-case basis.
(d) During the early coordination process, the lead agencies may request other agencies having an interest in the action to participate, and must invite such agencies if the action is subject to the project development procedures in 23 U.S.C. 139.4 Agencies with special expertise may be invited to become cooperating agencies. Agencies with jurisdiction by law must be requested to become cooperating agencies.
4 The FHWA and FTA have developed guidance on 23 U.S.C. Section 139 titled “SAFETEA-LU Environmental Review Process: Final Guidance,” November 15, 2006, and available at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov or in hard copy upon request.
(e) Other States, and Federal land management entities, that may be significantly affected by the action or by any of the alternatives shall be notified early and their views solicited by the applicant in cooperation with the Administration. The Administration will prepare a written evaluation of any significant unresolved issues and furnish it to the applicant for incorporation into the environmental assessment (EA) or draft EIS.
(f) In order to ensure meaningful evaluation of alternatives and to avoid commitments to transportation improvements before they are fully evaluated, the action evaluated in each EIS or finding of no significant impact (FONSI) shall:
(1) Connect logical termini and be of sufficient length to address environmental matters on a broad scope;
(2) Have independent utility or independent significance, i.e., be usable and be a reasonable expenditure even if no additional transportation improvements in the area are made; and
(3) Not restrict consideration of alternatives for other reasonably foreseeable transportation improvements.
(g) For major transportation actions, the tiering of EISs as discussed in the CEQ regulation (40 CFR 1502.20) may be appropriate. The first tier EIS would focus on broad issues such as general location, mode choice, and areawide air quality and land use implications of the major alternatives. The second tier would address site-specific details on project impacts, costs, and mitigation measures.
(h) For the Federal-aid highway program:
(1) Each State must have procedures approved by the FHWA to carry out a public involvement/public hearing program pursuant to 23 U.S.C. 128 and 139 and CEQ regulation.
(2) State public involvement/public hearing procedures must provide for:
(i) Coordination of public involvement activities and public hearings with the entire NEPA process.
(ii) Early and continuing opportunities during project development for the public to be involved in the identification of social, economic, and environmental impacts, as well as impacts associated with relocation of individuals, groups, or institutions.
(iii) One or more public hearings or the opportunity for hearing(s) to be held by the State highway agency at a convenient time and place for any Federal-aid project which requires significant amounts of right-of-way, substantially changes the layout or functions of connecting roadways or of the facility being improved, has a substantial adverse impact on abutting property, otherwise has a significant social, economic, environmental or other effect, or for which the FHWA determines that a public hearing is in the public interest.
(iv) Reasonable notice to the public of either a public hearing or the opportunity for a public hearing. Such notice will indicate the availability of explanatory information. The notice shall also provide information required to comply with public involvement requirements of other laws, Executive orders, and regulations.
(v) Explanation at the public hearing of the following information, as appropriate:
(A) The project's purpose, need, and consistency with the goals and objectives of any local urban planning,
(B) The project's alternatives, and major design features,
(C) The social, economic, environmental, and other impacts of the project,
(D) The relocation assistance program and the right-of-way acquisition process.
(E) The State highway agency's procedures for receiving both oral and written statements from the public.
(vi) Submission to the FHWA of a transcript of each public hearing and a certification that a required hearing or hearing opportunity was offered. The transcript will be accompanied by copies of all written statements from the public, both submitted at the public hearing or during an announced period after the public hearing.
(vii) An opportunity for public involvement in defining the purpose and need and the range of alternatives, for any action subject to the project development procedures in 23 U.S.C. 139.
(viii) Public notice and an opportunity for public review and comment on a Section 4(f)de minimis impact finding, in accordance with 49 U.S.C. 303(d).5
5 The FHWA and FTA have developed guidance on Section 4(f) de minimis impact findings titled “Guidance for Determining De Minimis Impacts to Section 4(f) Resources,” December 13, 2005, which is available at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov or in hard copy upon request.
(3) Based on the reevaluation of project environmental documents required by § 771.129, the FHWA and the State highway agency will determine whether changes in the project or new information warrant additional public involvement.
(4) Approvals or acceptances of public involvement/public hearing procedures prior to the publication date of this regulation remain valid.
(i) Applicants for capital assistance in the FTA program:
(1) Achieve public participation on proposed projects through activities that engage the public, including public hearings, town meetings, and charettes, and seeking input from the public through the scoping process for environmental review documents. Project milestones may be announced to the public using electronic or paper media (e.g., newsletters, note cards, or emails) pursuant to 40 CFR 1506.6. For projects requiring EISs, an early opportunity for public involvement in defining the purpose and need for action and the range of alternatives must be provided, and a public hearing will be held during the circulation period of the draft EIS. For other projects that substantially affect the community or its public transportation service, an adequate opportunity for public review and comment must be provided.
(2) May participate in early scoping as long as enough project information is known so the public and other agencies can participate effectively. Early scoping constitutes initiation of NEPA scoping while local planning efforts to aid in establishing the purpose and need and in evaluating alternatives and impacts are underway. Notice of early scoping must be made to the public and other agencies. If early scoping is the start of the NEPA process, the early scoping notice must include language to that effect. After development of the proposed action at the conclusion of early scoping, FTA will publish the Notice of Intent if it is determined at that time that the proposed action requires an EIS. The Notice of Intent will establish a 30-day period for comments on the purpose and need and the alternatives.
(3) Are encouraged to post and distribute materials related to the environmental review process, including but not limited to, NEPA documents, public meeting announcements, and minutes, through publicly-accessible electronic means, including project Web sites. Applicants are encouraged to keep these materials available to the public electronically until the project is constructed and open for operations.
(4) Are encouraged to post all environmental impact statements and records of decision on a project Web site until the project is constructed and open for operation.
(j) Information on the FTA environmental process may be obtained from: Director, Office of Human and Natural Environment, Federal Transit Administration, Washington, DC 20590. Information on the FHWA environmental process may be obtained from: Director, Office of Project Development and Environmental Review, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC 20590.