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  • Disclaimer: Any opinions, findings, and recommendations expressed in the group area discussions are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Government, the Department of Transportation, or the Federal Highway Administration.
Edited: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM

NEPA analysis w/ footprint change

We are preparing an EIS and are currently reviewing the administrative draft of the DEIS. For the last five years we analyzed impacts for many (too!) five to ten mile long, new alignment, 250' ROW, controlled access, build alternatives.  We have even identified a 'preferred alternative", with the caveats that go with that. Two lanes would be constructed initially, as a "super 2", one barrel of the four-lane version and reserve the remaining ROW, building out the other two lanes when needed.

We are just now considering a much reduced footprint to around 100' ROW and to a lower standard, a two-lane arterial, rural rolling to reduce costs.

With this proposed reduction in footprint, what happens now? We most certainly need to revise the admin draft to some extent given this change, at least the impact analysis as impacts will be substantially reduced, in some cases by more than one-half. Do we revisit any previous alternatives that were dismissed (not being carried forward for further consideration)? Do we need to step/look back? How far?

Thoughts on this one? Examples?
2011-12-14 15:29:37
Posted: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM
Mary Ann Rondinella
I think the Division Office that is reviewing this EIS needs to have applicants and co-leads clarify if they are truly downscoping the proposed action, or if they have determined they need to construct the ultimate 4 lane project in phases.  The type of environmental review will change depending on their answer. Also, if the project was initiated under the Environmental Review Process requirements of SAFETEA-LU, the participating agencies and other stakeholders should be informed if different alternatives are now being considered.  It would probably be wise to inform them even if the project is not subject to the SAFETEA-LU ERP requirements.  If the Division Office needs additional assistance, I recommend contacting your Headquarters Project Development Specialist and/or legal counsel and/or the Resource Center Environment TST.  Keep in mind that an uncontrolled access, 2 lane road will have very different operational characteristics than a controlled access, 4 lane facility.  So that's why it's important to understand what are the likely interim and ultimate configurations of the build alternatives, how well they achieve the stated purpose and need, as well as their short-term and long-term impacts.
12/27/2011 3:12 PM
Posted: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM
Just clear the whole project and discuss the different phases in the environmental document.  Full disclosure.  Done.
12/19/2011 2:47 PM
Posted: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM
protective buyout or corridor preservation works.
12/19/2011 2:45 PM
Posted: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM
OK clarification - original scope - if a build alternative meeting P&N is selected, enough ROW would be acquired to provide for four through lanes in a constrolled access ROW. However, only two lanes, a Super 2, would be constructed to meet capacity needs for the design year. Sometime after the design year, at a time unknown, it is felt that additional capacity would most likely be required and it would be more cost effective to acquire (and preserve for highway use) forested lands today than residential lands tomorrow, a bit of insightful logic if you will.
Revised scope - project scope is reduced to a smaller footprint to reduce costs, now. 250' ROW to 100' ROW.
ROW to be acquired after NEPA decision. btw, ROW acquisition could be conducted prior to NEPA decision following the regulations at 23 CFR 710.501/503 for early or advance acquisition.
12/19/2011 1:55 PM
Posted: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM
How do you "acquire" right of way prior to approval of the DEIS and "beyond the design year"? 
12/19/2011 11:44 AM
Posted: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM
Sorry about that - FHWA DO. - project has been acquire enough ROW for the four lanes that will be needed beyond the design year and build two lanes now.
DEIS just now being prepared, underway for 5 yrs. P&N has not changed, just the footprint reduction for cost savings.
12/19/2011 10:25 AM
Posted: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM
I think we really need to understand why the project scope is changing. If it's solely to address planning fiscal constraint requirements and not because of a change in needs for the proposed project, it may not be in the best interest of NEPA to just study the limited footprint in the environmental document. If it is just a fiscal constraint issue, there may be ways to handle this requirement, depending on the project situation, without jeopardizing NEPA compliance.
12/15/2011 2:19 PM
Posted: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM
FHWA Division Office
The project being proposed now is very different than what was originally proposed - it is practically a new project.  Has the Purpose and Need changed for the project (would seem like it would have to for the reduced roadway to be acceptable)?  If so, you would definitely need to look at your alternatives analysis again based on the revised needs.  And as you said, the impacts would have to be revised.  You may want to hold a new public meeting (not quite scoping, since the areas of concern would be the same).  Sounds like almost a complete rewrite of the EIS.

Another option would be to do a combined PEL (Planning Environmental Linkage) and EIS document.  The larger project would be the planning portion (what you would like to do), and the reduced template would be the EIS (what you are actually going to do based on funding).  This would require that you identify BOTH the overall impacts (which you already have) and the imapcts of the reduced project.  Still have to do most of what I described above and add a lot of discussion to the PEL/EIS to clarify what is happening, but you wouldn't have to throw out the work that is already done.
12/15/2011 1:24 PM
Posted: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM
This appears to be a good problem.  Developing an alternative that requires a simple reduction of the footprint from an exisiting alternative, is much easier than developing an alternaitve that doubles the footprint.  As long as the reduced version fits the P&N, youre good!
12/15/2011 1:12 PM
Posted: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM
Did the project get scaled back from an expected 4-lane improvement to a "Super 2-lane" because it now has been determined that the 2-lane adequately accommodates future traffic?  If so, I think you most definitely need to step back and review your Purpose and Need statement and decide if the P&N for the project has changed.  For example, did you eliminate OTHER 2-lane alternatives from consideration for traffic reasons, but now they could be viable alternatives?  If so, those should have probably been covered in the EIS.
12/15/2011 1:10 PM
Posted: 4/24/2012 8:38 AM
Sounds like you may need to do a Supplemental EIS, but I suggest you start with looking at 23 CFR 771.130 and make that determination (this would be FHWA's determination.  I am not sure if you are with FHWA, a state DOT, or a consultant.  If you are not with FHWA, consult with them regarding this determination).  At least a re-evaluation is needed, per 771.129(a) if, as stated, the Draft EIS is five years old and there has been no Final EIS.
12/15/2011 1:08 PM