Environmental Guidance Documents

NEPA Process Guidance for Federal Aid Projects

Categorical Exclusions

Categorical Exclusions (CEs) are defined by FHWA as actions that meet the definition in 40 CFR 1508.4 and, based on past agency experience with similar actions, do not involve significant environmental impacts. These are actions that DO NOT:

  • induce a significant impact to planned growth or land use for the area
  • require the relocation of significant numbers of people
  • have a significant impact on any natural, cultural, recreational, historic or other resource
  • involve significant air, noise, or water quality impacts
  • have significant impacts on travel patterns
  • and otherwise, either individually or cumulatively, have significant environmental impacts

ADOT and the Arizona Division of FHWA signed the Arizona Programmatic Approval agreement on June 26, 2008. This agreement delegates approval authority for some CEs to ADOT in carrying out the Federal-Aid Highway Program in Arizona and resulted in the 2010 Operating Agreement. ADOT and FHWA revised the operating agreement and issued the 2012 Update to the Operating Agreement to clarify the type of CE clearance to be used given specific project elements. CEs and the activities they address can be identified as:

  • Programmatic – Activities with no anticipated ground disturbance are identified in the 2012 Update to the Operating Agreement and are addressed with Group I Categorical Exclusions. These activities require an ADOT Environmental Clearance document, referred to as a Group I Clearance. Activities associated with minor ground disturbance as indicted in the 2012 Update to the Operating Agreement  also receive programmatic approval. These are identified as Group II Programmatic Categorical Exclusions. Evaluations of potential impacts associated with these activities are documented in either a Group II Condensed Clearance or a CE Checklist, depending on the project scope of work. Upon acceptance of the Condensed Clearance or CE Checklist, Environmental Clearance is issued.
  • Non-programmatic – Any activity not qualifying as a Group I or Group II Programmatic CE are a Group II Non-Programmatic CE. These activities require an ADOT Environmental Clearance document which, depending on the project scope of work, is either a Non-Programmatic Condensed Clearance or a Non-Programmatic CE Checklist. Both of these document types must receive FHWA approval prior to issuance of the Environmental Clearance.

An Environmental Determination reflects the state-level equivalent of a CE and is used on construction projects not triggering federal involvement and the NEPA process. The same guidelines and templates are used in the development of the Environmental Determination, with an indication made on the opening page that the project is state-funded.

The lists of project types included in the 2012 Update to the Operating Agreement are not all inclusive and are intended as examples for guidance purposes only. Each project is comprised of a unique scope of work, environmental setting, and circumstances. As such, each project must be evaluated against the intent of the Operating Agreement in an effort to determine the appropriate NEPA document to be developed. While this determination is made early in the project process, it must be reconsidered when the scope of work, environmental conditions, or project circumstances change. The EPG NEPA planner, in coordination with FHWA, will provide guidance on the anticipated level of documentation and should be consulted if there are changes in the project.

The following flowchart assists in determining the type of CE document to be completed for the project specific activities.

Ground Disturbing Activities Group I CE Environmental Clearance Minor ground disturbance? Programmatic? Group II Non- Programmatic CE Group II Programmatic CE Non-Programmatic CE Checklist CE Checklist FHWA Approval Environmental Clearance Programmatic? Group II Non-Programmatic CE Group II Programmatic CE Non-Programmatic-Condensed-Clearance Condensed Clearance FHWA Approval Environmental Clearance

1A list of programmatic projects, including minor ground disturbing activities can be found in the 2012 Update to the Operating Agreement.

If a CE is required, or Environmental Determination in the case of state-funded projects, the following process is used to complete the environmental clearance documentation:

Project Preparation Develop Project Description NEPA Scoping/Agency and Public Involvement Review Alternatives Evaluate Environmental Impact and Document Mitigation Measures CE Checklist or Condensed Clearance FHWA Approval Environmental Clearance