23 CFR Appendix A to Part 450 - Linking the Transportation Planning and NEPA Processes

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Appendix A to Part 450 - Linking the Transportation Planning and NEPA Processes
Background and Overview

This Appendix provides additional information to explain the linkage between the transportation planning and project development/National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes. It is intended to be non-binding and should not be construed as a rule of general applicability.

For 40 years, the Congress has directed that federally funded highway and transit projects must flow from metropolitan and statewide transportation planning processes (pursuant to 23 U.S.C. 134-135 and 49 U.S.C. 5303-5306). Over the years, the Congress has refined and strengthened the transportation planning process as the foundation for project decisions, emphasizing public involvement, consideration of environmental and other factors, and a Federal role that oversees the transportation planning process but does not second-guess the content of transportation plans and programs.

Despite this statutory emphasis on transportation planning, the environmental analyses produced to meet the requirements of the NEPA of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4231 et seq.) have often been conducted de novo, disconnected from the analyses used to develop long-range transportation plans, statewide and metropolitan Transportation Improvement Programs (STIPs/TIPs), or planning-level corridor/subarea/feasibility studies. When the NEPA and transportation planning processes are not well coordinated, the NEPA process may lead to the development of information that is more appropriately developed in the planning process, resulting in duplication of work and delays in transportation improvements.

The purpose of this Appendix is to change this culture, by supporting congressional intent that statewide and metropolitan transportation planning should be the foundation for highway and transit project decisions. This Appendix was crafted to recognize that transportation planning processes vary across the country. This document provides details on how information, analysis, and products from transportation planning can be incorporated into and relied upon in NEPA documents under existing laws, regardless of when the Notice of Intent has been published. This Appendix presents environmental review as a continuum of sequential study, refinement, and expansion performed in transportation planning and during project development/NEPA, with information developed and conclusions drawn in early stages utilized in subsequent (and more detailed) review stages.

The information below is intended for use by State departments of transportation (State DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and public transportation operators to clarify the circumstances under which transportation planning level choices and analyses can be adopted or incorporated into the process required by NEPA. Additionally, the FHWA and the FTA will work with Federal environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies to incorporate the principles of this Appendix in their day-to-day NEPA policies and procedures related to their involvement in highway and transit projects.

This Appendix does not extend NEPA requirements to transportation plans and programs. The Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) specifically exempted transportation plans and programs from NEPA review. Therefore, initiating the NEPA process as part of, or concurrently with, a transportation planning study does not subject transportation plans and programs to NEPA.

Implementation of this Appendix by States, MPOs, and public transportation operators is voluntary. The degree to which studies, analyses, or conclusions from the transportation planning process can be incorporated into the project development/NEPA processes will depend upon how well they meet certain standards established by NEPA regulations and guidance. While some transportation planning processes already meet these standards, others will need some modification.

The remainder of this Appendix document utilizes a “Question and Answer” format, organized into three primary categories (“Procedural Issues,” “Substantive Issues,” and “Administrative Issues”).

I. Procedural Issues
1. In what format should the transportation planning information be included?

To be included in the NEPA process, work from the transportation planning process must be documented in a form that can be appended to the NEPA document or incorporated by reference. Documents may be incorporated by reference if they are readily available so as to not impede agency or public review of the action. 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.

2. What is a reasonable level of detail for a planning product that is intended to be used in a NEPA document? How does this level of detail compare to what is considered a full NEPA analysis?

For purposes of transportation planning alone, a planning-level analysis does not need to rise to the level of detail required in the NEPA process. Rather, it needs to be accurate and up-to-date, and should adequately support recommended improvements in the statewide or metropolitan long-range transportation plan. The SAFETEA-LU requires transportation planning processes to focus on setting a context and following acceptable procedures. For example, the SAFETEA-LU requires a “discussion of the types of potential environmental mitigation activities” and potential areas for their implementation, rather than details on specific strategies. The SAFETEA-LU also emphasizes consultation with Federal, State, and Tribal land management, wildlife, and regulatory agencies.

However, the Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) ultimately will be judged by the standards applicable under the NEPA regulations and guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). To the extent the information incorporated from the transportation planning process, standing alone, does not contain all of the information or analysis required by NEPA, then it will need to be supplemented by other information contained in the EIS or EA that would, in conjunction with the information from the plan, collectively meet the requirements of NEPA. The intent is not to require NEPA studies in the transportation planning process. As an option, the NEPA analyses prepared for project development can be integrated with transportation planning studies (see the response to Question 9 for additional information).

3. What type and extent of involvement from Federal, Tribal, State, and local environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies is needed in the transportation planning process in order for planning-level decisions to be more readily accepted in the NEPA process?

Sections 3005, 3006, and 6001 of the SAFETEA-LU established formal consultation requirements for MPOs and State DOTs to employ with environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies in the development of long-range transportation plans. For example, metropolitan transportation plans now “shall include a discussion of the types of potential environmental mitigation activities and potential areas to carry out these activities, including activities that may have the greatest potential to restore and maintain the environmental functions affected by the [transportation] plan,” and that these planning-level discussions “shall be developed in consultation with Federal, State, and Tribal land management, wildlife, and regulatory agencies.” In addition, MPOs “shall consult, as appropriate, with State and local agencies responsible for land use management, natural resources, environmental protection, conservation, and historic preservation concerning the development of a long-range transportation plan,” and that this consultation “shall involve, as appropriate, comparison of transportation plans with State conservation plans or maps, if available, or comparison of transportation plans to inventories of natural or historic resources, if available.” Similar SAFETEA-LU language addresses the development of the long-range statewide transportation plan, with the addition of Tribal conservation plans or maps to this planning-level “comparison.”

In addition, section 6002 of the SAFETEA-LU established several mechanisms for increased efficiency in environmental reviews for project decision-making. For example, the term “lead agency” collectively means the U.S. Department of Transportation and a State or local governmental entity serving as a joint lead agency for the NEPA process. In addition, the lead agency is responsible for inviting and designating “participating agencies” (i.e., other Federal or non-Federal agencies that may have an interest in the proposed project). Any Federal agency that is invited by the lead agency to participate in the environmental review process for a project shall be designated as a participating agency by the lead agency unless the invited agency informs the lead agency, in writing, by the deadline specified in the invitation that the invited agency:

(a) Has no jurisdiction or authority with respect to the project; (b) has no expertise or information relevant to the project; and (c) does not intend to submit comments on the project.

Past successful examples of using transportation planning products in NEPA analysis are based on early and continuous involvement of environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies. Without this 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. Early participation in transportation planning provides environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies better insight into the needs and objectives of the locality. Additionally, early participation provides an important opportunity for environmental, regulatory, and resource agency concerns to be identified and addressed early in the process, such as those related to permit applications. 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. The use of other agency planning outputs can result in a transportation project that could support multiple goals (transportation, environmental, and community). Further, planning decisions by these other agencies may have impacts on long-range transportation plans and/or the STIP/TIP, thereby providing important input to the transportation planning process and advancing integrated decision-making.

4. What is the procedure for using decisions or analyses from the transportation planning process?

The lead agencies 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. At a minimum, a robust scoping/early coordination process (which explains to Federal and State environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies and the public the information and/or analyses utilized to develop the planning products, how the purpose and need was developed and refined, and how the design concept and scope were determined) should play a critical role in leading to informed decisions by the lead agencies on the suitability of the transportation planning information, analyses, documents, and decisions for use in the NEPA process. As part of a rigorous scoping/early coordination process, the FHWA and the FTA should ensure that the transportation planning results are appropriately documented, shared, and used.

5. To what extent can the FHWA/FTA provide up-front assurance that decisions and additional investments made in the transportation planning process will allow planning-level decisions and analyses to be used in the NEPA process?

There are no guarantees. However, the potential is greatly improved for transportation planning processes that address the “3-C” planning principles (comprehensive, cooperative, and continuous); incorporate the intent of NEPA through the consideration of natural, physical, and social effects; involve environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies; thoroughly document the transportation planning process information, analysis, and decision; and vet the planning results through the applicable public involvement processes.

6. What considerations will the FHWA/FTA take into account in their review of transportation planning products for acceptance in project development/NEPA?

The FHWA and the FTA will give deference to decisions resulting from the transportation planning process if the FHWA and FTA determine that the planning process is consistent with the “3-C” planning principles and when the planning study process, alternatives considered, and resulting decisions have a rational basis that is thoroughly documented and vetted through the applicable public involvement processes. Moreover, any applicable program-specific requirements (e.g., those of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program or the FTA's Capital Investment Grant program) also must be met.

The NEPA requires that the FHWA and the FTA be able to stand behind the overall soundness and credibility of analyses conducted and decisions made during the transportation planning process if they are incorporated into a NEPA document. For example, if systems-level or other broad objectives or choices from the transportation plan are incorporated into the purpose and need statement for a NEPA document, the FHWA and the FTA should not revisit whether these are the best objectives or choices among other options. Rather, the FHWA and the FTA review would include making sure that objectives or choices derived from the transportation plan were: Based on transportation planning factors established by Federal law; reflect a credible and articulated planning rationale; founded on reliable data; and developed through transportation planning processes meeting FHWA and FTA statutory and regulatory requirements. In addition, the basis for the goals and choices must be documented and included in the NEPA document. The FHWA/FTA reviewers do not need to review whether assumptions or analytical methods used in the studies are the best available, but, instead, need to assure that such assumptions or analytical methods are reasonable, scientifically acceptable, and consistent with goals, objectives, and policies set forth in long-range transportation plans. This review would include determining whether: (a) Assumptions have a rational basis and are up-to-date and (b) data, analytical methods, and modeling techniques are reliable, defensible, reasonably current, and meet data quality requirements.

II. Substantive Issues
General Issues To Be Considered
7. What should be considered in order to rely upon transportation planning studies in NEPA?

The following questions should be answered prior to accepting studies conducted during the transportation planning process for use in NEPA. While not a “checklist,” these questions are intended to guide the practitioner's analysis of the planning products:

• How much time has passed since the planning studies and corresponding decisions were made?

• Were the future year policy assumptions used in the transportation planning process related to land use, economic development, transportation costs, and network expansion consistent with those to be used in the NEPA process?

• Is the information still relevant/valid?

• What changes have occurred in the area since the study was completed?

• Is the information in a format that can be appended to an environmental document or reformatted to do so?

• Are the analyses in a planning-level report or document based on data, analytical methods, and modeling techniques that are reliable, defensible, and consistent with those used in other regional transportation studies and project development activities?

• Were the FHWA and FTA, other agencies, and the public involved in the relevant planning analysis and the corresponding planning decisions?

• Were the planning products available to other agencies and the public during NEPA scoping?

• During NEPA scoping, was a clear connection between the decisions made in planning and those to be made during the project development stage explained to the public and others? What was the response?

• Are natural resource and land use plans being informed by transportation planning products, and vice versa?

Purpose and Need
8. How can transportation planning be used to shape a project's purpose and need in the NEPA process?

A sound transportation planning process is the primary source of the project purpose and need. Through transportation planning, State and local governments, with involvement of stakeholders and the public, establish a vision for the region's future transportation system, define transportation goals and objectives for realizing that vision, decide which needs to address, and determine the timeframe for addressing these issues. The transportation planning process also provides a potential forum to define a project's purpose and need by framing the scope of the problem to be addressed by a proposed project. This scope may be further refined during the transportation planning process as more information about the transportation need is collected and consultation with the public and other stakeholders clarifies other issues and goals for the region.

23 U.S.C. 139(f), as amended by the SAFETEA-LU Section 6002, provides additional focus regarding the definition of the purpose and need and objectives. For example, the lead agency, as early as practicable during the environmental review process, shall provide an opportunity for involvement by participating agencies and the public in defining the purpose and need for a project. The statement of purpose and need shall include a clear statement of the objectives that the proposed action is intended to achieve, which may include: (a) Achieving a transportation objective identified in an applicable statewide or metropolitan transportation plan; (b) supporting land use, economic development, or growth objectives established in applicable Federal, State, local, or Tribal plans; and (c) serving national defense, national security, or other national objectives, as established in Federal laws, plans, or policies.

The transportation planning process can be utilized to develop the purpose and need in the following ways:

(a) Goals and objectives from the transportation planning process may be part of the project's purpose and need statement;

(b) A general travel corridor or general mode or modes (e.g., highway, transit, or a highway/transit combination) resulting from planning analyses may be part of the project's purpose and need statement;

(c) If the financial plan for a metropolitan transportation plan indicates that funding for a specific project will require special funding sources (e.g., tolls or public-private financing), such information may be included in the purpose and need statement; or

(d) The results of analyses from management systems (e.g., congestion, pavement, bridge, and/or safety) may shape the purpose and need statement.

The use of these planning-level goals and choices must be appropriately explained during NEPA scoping and in the NEPA document.

Consistent with NEPA, the purpose and need statement should be a statement of a transportation problem, not a specific solution. However, the purpose and need statement should be specific enough to generate alternatives that may potentially yield real solutions to the problem at-hand. A purpose and need statement that yields only one alternative may indicate a purpose and need that is too narrowly defined.

Short of a fully integrated transportation decision-making process, many State DOTs develop information for their purpose and need statements when implementing interagency NEPA/Section 404 process merger agreements. These agreements may need to be expanded to include commitments to share and utilize transportation planning products when developing a project's purpose and need.

9. Under what conditions can the NEPA process be initiated in conjunction with transportation planning studies?

The NEPA process may be initiated in conjunction with transportation planning studies in a number of ways. A common method is the “tiered EIS,” in which the first-tier EIS evaluates general travel corridors, modes, and/or packages of projects at a planning level of detail, leading to the refinement of purpose and need and, ideally, selection of the design concept and scope for a project or series of projects. Subsequently, second-tier NEPA review(s) of the resulting projects would be performed in the usual way. The first-tier EIS uses the NEPA process as a tool to involve environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies and the public in the planning decisions, as well as to ensure the appropriate consideration of environmental factors in these planning decisions.

Corridor or subarea analyses/studies are another option when the long-range transportation plan leaves open the possibility of multiple approaches to fulfill its goals and objectives. In such cases, the formal NEPA process could be initiated through publication of a NOI in conjunction with a corridor or subarea planning study.

10. In the context of this Appendix, what is the meaning of the term “alternatives”?

This Appendix uses the term “alternatives” as specified in the NEPA regulations (40 CFR 1502.14), where it is defined in its broadest sense to include everything from major modal alternatives and location alternatives to minor design changes that would mitigate adverse impacts. This Appendix does not use the term as it is used in many other contexts (e.g., “prudent and feasible alternatives” under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act or the “Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative” under the Clean Water Act.

11. Under what circumstances can alternatives be eliminated from detailed consideration during the NEPA process based on information and analysis from the transportation planning process?

There are two ways in which the transportation planning process can begin limiting the alternative solutions to be evaluated during the NEPA process: (a) Shaping the purpose and need for the project; or (b) evaluating alternatives during planning studies and eliminating some of the alternatives from detailed study in the NEPA process prior to its start. Each approach requires careful attention, and is summarized below.

(a) Shaping the Purpose and Need for the Project: The transportation planning process should shape the purpose and need and, thereby, the range of reasonable alternatives. With proper documentation and public involvement, a purpose and need derived from the planning process can legitimately narrow the alternatives analyzed in the NEPA process. See the response to Question 8 for further discussion on how the planning process can shape the purpose and need used in the NEPA process.

For example, the purpose and need may be shaped by the transportation planning process in a manner that consequently narrows the range of alternatives that must be considered in detail in the NEPA document when:

(1) The transportation planning process has selected a general travel corridor as best addressing identified transportation problems and the rationale for the determination in the planning document is reflected in the purpose and need statement of the subsequent NEPA document;

(2) The transportation planning process has selected a general mode (e.g., highway, transit, or a highway/transit combination) that accomplishes its goals and objectives, and these documented determinations are reflected in the purpose and need statement of the subsequent NEPA document; or

(3) The transportation planning process determines that the project needs to be funded by tolls or other non-traditional funding sources in order for the long-range transportation plan to be fiscally constrained or identifies goals and objectives that can only be met by toll roads or other non-traditional funding sources, and that determination of those goals and objectives is reflected in the purpose and need statement of the subsequent NEPA document.

(b) Evaluating and Eliminating Alternatives During the Transportation Planning Process: The evaluation and elimination of alternatives during the transportation planning process can be incorporated by reference into a NEPA document under certain circumstances. In these cases, the planning study becomes part of the NEPA process and provides a basis for screening out alternatives. As with any part of the NEPA process, the analysis of alternatives to be incorporated from the process must have a rational basis that has been thoroughly documented (including documentation of the necessary and appropriate vetting through the applicable public involvement processes). This record should be made available for public review during the NEPA scoping process.

See responses to Questions 4, 5, 6, and 7 for additional elements to consider with respect to acceptance of planning products for NEPA documentation and the response to Question 12 on the information or analysis from the transportation planning process necessary for supporting the elimination of an alternative(s) from detailed consideration in the NEPA process.

Development of planning Alternatives Analysis studies, required prior to MAP-21 for projects seeking funds through FTA's Capital Investment Grant program, are now optional, but may still be used to narrow the alternatives prior to the NEPA review, just as other planning studies may be used. In fact, through planning studies, FTA may be able to narrow the alternatives considered in detail in the NEPA document to the No-Build (No Action) alternative and the Locally Preferred Alternative. If the planning process has included the analysis and stakeholder involvement that would be undertaken in a first tier NEPA process, then the alternatives screening conducted in the transportation planning process may be incorporated by reference, described, and relied upon in the project-level NEPA document. At that point, the project-level NEPA analysis can focus on the remaining alternatives.

12. What information or analysis from the transportation planning process is needed in an EA or EIS to support the elimination of an alternative(s) from detailed consideration?

The section of the EA or EIS that discusses alternatives considered but eliminated from detailed consideration should:

(a) Identify any alternatives eliminated during the transportation planning process (this could include broad categories of alternatives, as when a long-range transportation plan selects a general travel corridor based on a corridor study, thereby eliminating all alternatives along other alignments);

(b) Briefly summarize the reasons for eliminating the alternative; and

(c) Include a summary of the analysis process that supports the elimination of alternatives (the summary should reference the relevant sections or pages of the analysis or study) and incorporate it by reference or append it to the NEPA document.

Any analyses or studies used to eliminate alternatives from detailed consideration should be made available to the public and participating agencies during the NEPA scoping process and should be reasonably available during comment periods.

Alternatives passed over during the transportation planning process because they are infeasible or do not meet the NEPA “purpose and need” can be omitted from the detailed analysis of alternatives in the NEPA document, as long as the rationale for elimination is explained in the NEPA document. Alternatives that remain “reasonable” after the planning-level analysis must be addressed in the EIS, even when they are not the preferred alternative. When the proposed action evaluated in an EA involves unresolved conflicts concerning alternative uses of available resources, NEPA requires that appropriate alternatives be studied, developed, and described.

Affected Environment and Environmental Consequences
13. What types of planning products provide analysis of the affected environment and environmental consequences that are useful in a project-level NEPA analysis and document?

The following planning products are valuable inputs to the discussion of the affected environment and environmental consequences (both its current state and future state in the absence of the proposed action) in the project-level NEPA analysis and document:

• Regional development and growth analyses;

• Local land use, growth management, or development plans; and

• Population and employment projections.

The following are types of information, analysis, and other products from the transportation planning process that can be used in the discussion of the affected environment and environmental consequences in an EA or EIS:

(a) Geographic information system (GIS) overlays showing the past, current, or predicted future conditions of the natural and built environments;

(b) Environmental scans that identify environmental resources and environmentally sensitive areas;

(c) Descriptions of airsheds and watersheds;

(d) Demographic trends and forecasts;

(e) Projections of future land use, natural resource conservation areas, and development; and

(f) The outputs of natural resource planning efforts, such as wildlife conservation plans, watershed plans, special area management plans, and multiple species habitat conservation plans.

However, in most cases, the assessment of the affected environment and environmental consequences conducted during the transportation planning process will not be detailed or current enough to meet NEPA standards and, thus, the inventory and evaluation of affected resources and the analysis of consequences of the alternatives will need to be supplemented with more refined analysis and possibly site-specific details during the NEPA process.

14. What information from the transportation planning process is useful in describing a baseline for the NEPA analysis of indirect and cumulative impacts?

Because the nature of the transportation planning process is to look broadly at future land use, development, population increases, and other growth factors, the planning analysis can provide the basis for the assessment of indirect and cumulative impacts required under NEPA. The consideration in the transportation planning process of development, growth, and consistency with local land use, growth management, or development plans, as well as population and employment projections, provides an overview of the multitude of factors in an area that are creating pressures not only on the transportation system, but on the natural ecosystem and important environmental and community resources. An analysis of all reasonably foreseeable actions in the area also should be a part of the transportation planning process. This planning-level information should be captured and utilized in the analysis of indirect and cumulative impacts during the NEPA process.

To be used in the analysis of indirect and cumulative impacts, such information should:

(a) Be sufficiently detailed that differences in consequences of alternatives can be readily identified;

(b) Be based on current data (e.g., data from the most recent Census) or be updated by additional information;

(c) Be based on reasonable assumptions that are clearly stated; and/or

(d) Rely on analytical methods and modeling techniques that are reliable, defensible, and reasonably current.

Environmental Mitigation
15. How can planning-level efforts best support advance mitigation, mitigation banking, and priorities for environmental mitigation investments?

A lesson learned from efforts to establish mitigation banks and advance mitigation agreements and alternative mitigation options is the importance of beginning interagency discussions during the transportation planning process. Development pressures, habitat alteration, complicated real estate transactions, and competition for potential mitigation sites by public and private project proponents can encumber the already difficult task of mitigating for “like” value and function and reinforce the need to examine mitigation strategies as early as possible.

Robust use of remote sensing, GIS, and decision support systems for evaluating conservation strategies are all contributing to the advancement of natural resource and environmental planning. The outputs from environmental planning can now better inform transportation planning processes, including the development of mitigation strategies, so that transportation and conservation goals can be optimally met. For example, long-range transportation plans can be screened to assess the effect of general travel corridors or density, on the viability of sensitive plant and animal species or habitats. This type of screening provides a basis for early collaboration among transportation and environmental staffs, the public, and regulatory agencies to explore areas where impacts must be avoided and identify areas for mitigation investments. This can lead to mitigation strategies that are both more economical and more effective from an environmental stewardship perspective than traditional project-specific mitigation measures.

III. Administrative Issues
16. Are Federal funds eligible to pay for these additional, or more in depth, environmental studies in transportation planning?

Yes. For example, the following FHWA and FTA funds may be utilized for conducting environmental studies and analyses within transportation planning:

• FHWA planning and research funds, as defined under 23 CFR part 420 (e.g., Metropolitan Planning (PL), Statewide Planning and Research (SPR), National Highway System (NHS), STP, and Equity Bonus); and

• FTA planning and research funds (49 U.S.C. 5303), urban formula funds (49 U.S.C. 5307), and (in limited circumstances) transit capital investment funds (49 U.S.C. 5309).

The eligible transportation planning-related uses of these funds may include: (a) Conducting feasibility or subarea/corridor needs studies and (b) developing system-wide environmental information/inventories (e.g., wetland banking inventories or standards to identify historically significant sites). Particularly in the case of PL and SPR funds, the proposed expenditure must be closely related to the development of transportation plans and programs under 23 U.S.C. 134-135 and 49 U.S.C. 5303-5306.

For FHWA funding programs, once a general travel corridor or specific project has progressed to a point in the preliminary engineering/NEPA phase that clearly extends beyond transportation planning, additional in-depth environmental studies must be funded through the program category for which the ultimate project qualifies (e.g., NHS, STP, Interstate Maintenance, and/or Bridge), rather than PL or SPR funds.

Another source of funding is FHWA's Transportation Enhancement program, which may be used for activities such as: conducting archeological planning and research; developing inventories such as those for historic bridges and highways, and other surface transportation-related structures; conducting studies to determine the extent of water pollution due to highway runoff; and conducting studies to reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality while maintaining habitat connectivity.

The FHWA and the FTA encourage State DOTs, MPOs, and public transportation operators to seek partners for some of these studies from environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies, non-government organizations, and other government and private sector entities with similar data needs, or environmental interests. In some cases, these partners may contribute data and expertise to the studies, as well as funding.

17. What staffing or organizational arrangements may be helpful in allowing planning products to be accepted in the NEPA process?

Certain organizational and staffing arrangements may support a more integrated approach to the planning/NEPA decision-making continuum. In many cases, planning organizations do not have environmental expertise on staff or readily accessible. Likewise, the review and regulatory responsibilities of many environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies make involvement in the transportation planning process a challenge for staff resources. These challenges may be partially met by improved use of the outputs of each agency's planning resources and by augmenting their capabilities through greater use of GIS and remote sensing technologies (see http://www.gis.fhwa.dot.gov/ for additional information on the use of GIS). Sharing databases and the planning products of local land use decision-makers and State and Federal environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies also provide efficiencies in acquiring and sharing the data and information needed for both transportation planning and NEPA work.

Additional opportunities such as shared staff, training across disciplines, and (in some cases) reorganizing to eliminate structural divisions between planning and NEPA practitioners may also need to be considered in order to better integrate NEPA considerations into transportation planning studies. The answers to the following two questions also contain useful information on training and staffing opportunities.

18. How have environmental, regulatory, and resource agency liaisons (Federally and State DOT funded positions) and partnership agreements been used to provide the expertise and interagency participation needed to enhance the consideration of environmental factors in the planning process?

For several years, States have utilized Federal and State transportation funds to support focused and accelerated project review by a variety of local, State, Tribal, and Federal agencies. While Section 1309(e) of the TEA-21 and its successor in SAFETEA-LU section 6002 speak specifically to transportation project streamlining, there are other authorities that have been used to fund positions, such as the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act (31 U.S.C. 6505). In addition, long-term, on-call consultant contracts can provide backfill support for staff that are detailed to other parts of an agency for temporary assignments. At last count (as of 2015), over 200 positions were being funded. Additional information on interagency funding agreements is available at: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/igdocs/index.htm.

Moreover, every State has advanced a variety of stewardship and streamlining initiatives that necessitate early involvement of environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies in the project development process. Such process improvements have: addressed the exchange of data to support avoidance and impact analysis; established formal and informal consultation and review schedules; advanced mitigation strategies; and resulted in a variety of programmatic reviews. Interagency agreements and work plans have evolved to describe performance objectives, as well as specific roles and responsibilities related to new streamlining initiatives. Some States have improved collaboration and efficiency by co-locating environmental, regulatory, and resource and transportation agency staff.

19. What training opportunities are available to MPOs, State DOTs, public transportation operators and environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies to assist in their understanding of the transportation planning and NEPA processes?

Both the FHWA and the FTA offer a variety of transportation planning, public involvement, and NEPA courses through the National Highway Institute and/or the National Transit Institute. Of particular note is the Linking Planning and NEPA Workshop, which provides a forum and facilitated group discussion among and between State DOT; MPO; Federal, Tribal, and State environmental, regulatory, and resource agencies; and FHWA/FTA representatives (at both the executive and program manager levels) to develop a State-specific action plan that will provide for strengthened linkages between the transportation planning and NEPA processes.

Moreover, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers Green Infrastructure Workshops that are focused on integrating planning for natural resources (“green infrastructure”) with the development, economic, and other infrastructure needs of society (“gray infrastructure”).

Robust planning and multi-issue environmental screening requires input from a wide variety of disciplines, including information technology; transportation planning; the NEPA process; and regulatory, permitting, and environmental specialty areas (e.g., noise, air quality, and biology). Senior managers at transportation and partner agencies can arrange a variety of individual training programs to support learning curves and skill development that contribute to a strengthened link of the transportation planning and NEPA processes. Formal and informal mentoring on an intra-agency basis can be arranged. Employee exchanges within and between agencies can be periodically scheduled, and persons involved with professional leadership programs can seek temporary assignments with partner agencies.

IV. Additional Information on This Topic

Valuable sources of information are FHWA's environment Web site (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/index.htm) and FTA's environmental streamlining Web site (http://www.environment.fta.dot.gov). Another source of information and case studies is NCHRP Report 8-38 (Consideration of Environmental Factors in Transportation Systems Planning), which is available at http://www4.trb.org/trb/crp.nsf/All??????38. In addition, AASHTO's Center for Environmental Excellence Web site is continuously updated with news and links to information of interest to transportation and environmental professionals (www.transportation.environment.org).