Environmental Planning Overview
The ADOT Environmental Planner leads the environmental review process including managing the project’s environmental schedule, budget and documentation prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other applicable environmental laws and regulations. The Environmental Planners are responsible for coordinating and communicating closely with the ADOT Project Manager, Technical Specialists assigned to the project, the ADOT Districts and the LPAs. ADOT Environmental Planners are also required to review each stage of plans and ensure that any project-specific mitigation measures are incorporated into the Plan, Specification and Estimate (PSE) and to ensure that a valid Environmental Clearance is on file at the time of construction authorization.
Environmental Planning Technical Specialists manage and approve technical analysis, reports, and agency coordination in conformance with related environmental rules and regulations. The Technical Specialists are responsible for coordinating closely with the project Environmental Planner and developing mitigation measures that are clear, reasonable, and constructible. Environmental Planning guidance for preparing NEPA documents and technical guidance can be found on the Environmental Planning website.
ADOT has been assigned FHWA's NEPA responsibilities pursuant to the State Assumption of Responsibility for Categorical Exclusions Program, otherwise known as CE Assignment. The environmental review responsibilities are carried out by ADOT pursuant to 23 U.S.C. 326 and a Memorandum of Understanding dated January 3, 2018 and executed by FHWA and ADOT.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
All Federal-aid Highway Program (FAHP) projects must be in compliance with NEPA. The level of NEPA documentation required for FAHP projects is prescribed in three classes of action:
Class I: Actions likely to cause significant impacts on the environment. The preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required for this class of project.
Class II: Actions that do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the environment. Categorical Exclusions (CE) are for actions that normally do not require an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement.
Class III: This class of actions requires the preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) to determine which aspects of the proposed action might have social, economic, or environmental impacts and eventually to determine if an EIS is required.
Projects that will require an EIS or EA are typically identified in the Planning and Programming stage because a substantial amount of funding must be programmed to develop an EIS or EA. For the vast majority of projects the initial determination of the NEPA classification will be that the project qualifies as a CE. This preliminary determination helps define project development costs and the scope of work for inclusion in project budgets and Joint Project Agreements (for LPA projects). An estimation of the appropriate environmental studies that need to be conducted should be part of the project preliminary scoping phase.
Categorical Exclusions (CE)
As described in 23 CFR 771.117, federal “actions”, i.e. FAHP projects, can be classified as a CE if they; do not cause significant adverse environmental effects, they meet the definitions contained in 40 CFR 1508.4 and are excluded from the requirements to prepare either an EIS or EA. Most of the FAHP projects developed by ADOT normally meet the requirements of a CE. For these projects ADOT Environmental Planners must confirm that a project will not result in significant environmental impacts by reviewing the project’s description against the CE criteria listed above.
Projects designated as a CE are actions which:
- Do not induce significant impacts to planned growth or land use.
- Do not require the relocation of significant numbers of people.
- Do not have a significant impact on any natural, cultural, recreational, historic, or other resource.
- Do not involve significant air, noise, or water quality impacts.
- Do not have significant impacts on travel patterns.
- Do not otherwise, either individually or cumulatively, have any significant environmental impacts.
There are specific lists of actions that typically qualify under 23 CFR 771.117(c) and (d) and are therefore known as “c-list” and “d-list” CE projects. For these projects a CE Checklist is prepared for ADOT approval under CE Assignment. CEs not specifically listed under paragraph (d) may still qualify as a CE under paragraph (d) as an individually documented CE. These are projects which meet the definition of a CE but do not appear on the list of examples in Section 771.117(c) or (d). Adding highway capacity (through-lanes) on certain projects, reconstruction of an existing traffic interchange and construction of a new service traffic interchange are examples of projects that, though not specifically listed on the d-list, may still qualify under paragraph (d) as an individually documented CE.
A project that does not involve construction, or is of limited construction can be approved with a (c)(1) CE. These are projects which do not result in physical construction or are very limited (minor) in nature. These are projects that do not require technical analysis and can be cleared in a very short amount of time. Examples of c-listed actions that qualify for a CE Checklist without technical analysis include; funding authorizations, such as those for materials procurement and equipment purchase, design exceptions, and planning studies as well as bicycle, striping and sign projects that restrict work to the existing pavement or existing infrastructure such as sign posts.
For a typical CE, other than a (c)(1) CE, it can take between three (3) to nine (9) months to complete the environmental analysis and NEPA process depending on the project-specific environmental issues and other relevant environmental laws that must be addressed. Technical areas such as Section 4(f), Section 106, Section 7 and Section 404, as well as project financial issues can be the critical path ‘drivers’ of the schedule. Keep in mind that each consulting agency may have its own review timeframe requirements. For example a 135-day consultation timeline for formal Section 7 consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is in federal regulations. ADOT must work closely with each agency to determine and incorporate their required timeframes into the schedule.
Environmental Assessments (EA) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)
The environmental process to be followed is determined by the type of project and the significance of the environmental impacts identified during the planning effort. For major projects an Environmental Assessment is completed as a distinct project phase in advance of a Design Project and is completed in concert with the preparation of a Design Concept Report. These studies are funded as line items in the Five-Year Construction Program. Projects requiring preparation of an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement involve public participation, including scoping and information meetings as well as formal public hearings.
A Draft EA is prepared concurrent with the preparation of the Initial Design Concept Report. This document will generally describe the impacts of the recommended action and the necessary mitigation measures. Technical studies may include; air quality, noise analysis, biological evaluations, cultural resources investigations and hazardous material assessments.
A Final EA shall be prepared concurrent with the preparation of the Final Design Concept Report. This document will describe the Selected Alternative, incorporate a Public Hearing transcript and document responses to comments received on the Draft EA.
An EIS is completed for projects with significant environmental impacts. These projects are for very large undertakings and take many years to develop. A Project Manager would implement individual projects or phases that may be identified in an EIS. Consult the Environmental Planning website for more information.
Scope Changes and Re-Evaluations of Environmental Documents
A re-evaluation is an analysis of changes in a proposed project scope or affected environment and anticipated impacts after NEPA approval. The purpose of a re-evaluation is to determine whether an approved environmental NEPA determination remains valid and to evaluate and document any changes required. Re-evaluation of a CE, EA, or EIS may be required if any one of the following conditions is identified: There are changes in the proposed action that are relevant to the environmental concerns; there is new information that is relevant to the proposed action or its impacts; three years has passed since the original NEPA determination; or a federal law that is relevant to the project is updated or has changed.
Scope changes could result in unanticipated monetary and schedule requirements and can occur at any point during the project. If changes to project scope occur, the Project Manager should contact ADOT Environmental Planning as soon as possible to determine whether re-evaluation is necessary. If the scope of work or project limits change, the Environmental Planner shall inform all of the Technical Specialists and determine if any re-analysis is needed. Direction by Technical Specialists to consultants regarding project changes that could impact the budget, scope or schedule should not be given without first coordinating with the Environmental Planner and the ADOT Project Manager as these changes my require approval of the ADOT Project Review Board (PRB) or the Local Public Agency (LPA).
Valid CE at the time of a Federal Funding Authorization Request
A valid CE (NEPA approval) must be on file when an ADOT authorization request is sent to FHWA for construction funding. An acknowledgement that NEPA is approved is included in the request for authorization letter from ADOT Contracts and Specifications (C&S) to FHWA or from the ADOT Project Manager to FHWA for LPA Certification Agency Projects. The ADOT Project Manager will confirm with the Environmental Planner that the CE is still valid by including the Environmental Planner’s signature on the funding request letter sent to FHWA. This is a formal step at the time of the request. Any updates to the environmental clearance need to be conducted and completed as part of the project development process and be performed well in advance of the funding request and NEPA validation.
Technical Resource Studies
Technical resource studies, also known as Environmental Analysis, are the evaluative tools commonly used as the basis of decisions rendered in environmental documents. The Environmental Planner works closely with the Technical Specialists to ensure all necessary environmental analysis is conducted and that outside agency approvals are secured for the project.
Environmental resources that may require analysis include air quality, noise impacts and hazardous materials as well as natural, cultural, social and recreational resources. Technical studies generally have established measurable criteria for evaluating potential project impacts. The methodologies, conclusions, and mitigation measures are coordinated with oversight agencies and regulatory bodies—such as the USFWS, which has jurisdiction over endangered species; EPA, which sets and enforces air quality and hazardous materials regulations; and the Corps, which enforces the Clean Water Act requirements. Environmental documents (EA/EIS) usually include summaries of the technical analyses and reference the technical study. For projects cleared with a CE the technical analysis will be in the Environmental Planning Project File.
Environmental Planning sends Agency and Public Scoping Letters early in the process in order to explain the project and to gather input from the affected agencies and public. The Project Development Process will consider the issues and concerns of affected agencies’ and the public. All scoping methods are tailored to meet the needs of each individual project including whether or not public scoping will be included.
Public meetings and public hearings are typically undertaken only for larger scale projects that involve alternatives and the preparation of an individually approved CE, an EA or an EIS. The purpose of such meetings is to identify issues, inform the public of projects alternatives, solicit input and answer questions regarding the scope and schedule of a proposed project. Public Meetings will typically be held in advance of a required Public Hearing for large-scale project.
Though not always required under the regulations, the ADOT Public Involvement Plan will generally require a public hearing for projects in which an Environmental Assessment is being prepared. A public hearing is always required for projects in which an EIS is being prepared. Procedures to be followed in the public hearing are outlined in the ADOT Public Involvement Plan. Public Hearings involve additional NEPA requirements in regard to advertisements, availability of documents for review and responses to comments.
For ADOT projects ADOT Communications works in cooperation with the Project Management Group and Environmental Planning to set up and conduct public meetings and public hearings. Communications is responsible for advertising and managing all such meetings. The Project Team works together in the preparation of documents and exhibits for public meetings. Communications, Project Management and Environmental Planner need to concur on public involvement materials as outlined in the matrix and agree on public meeting dates.
The Project Manager will work cooperatively with Communications and Environmental Planning to ensure that public involvement materials are developed according to the Public Involvement Matrix and that the appropriate project team members review all public involvement materials for the project. For LPA design-administered projects the LPA is responsible for leading the public involvement efforts. If ADOT is administering design then ADOT Communications may act in an advisory role.
Substantive comments received from Public Hearings are addressed by the project team. Certain comments from public scoping meetings or public meetings may be addressed by the project team and responded to. When responding to comments in writing, the project team will obtain consensus on whose signature should appear on the correspondence depending upon the type of inquiry.
Environmental in Preliminary Design
An initial determination of a project NEPA classification will be made during the Planning and Programming phase of a project. Some level of project scoping will have been performed in order to program a project in the Five-Year Transportation Construction Program or LPA’s TIP. Environmental constraints and the anticipated level of NEPA documentation and environmental analysis may have been identified at that stage in order to program the project.
Environmental Planning should be involved in development of the contract or task order project scope of work at the initiation of the project in order to determine environmental efforts and costs needed to develop a project. Some projects may have preliminary scoping completed during the planning and programming process. Once a project begins, additional refinement of any previously developed scoping may be performed as part of Preliminary Engineering early in the design of a design project. Scoping documents should identify key environmental issues only such as the need for historic structures evaluations, 404 Individual permits and known areas of concern for biological or cultural resources. For one-step projects in which a Scoping Letter or Project Assessment is being prepared the environmental analysis and preparation of the CE will begin at the project kick-off so superfluous detailed environmental information is not required in the scoping document. The Environmental Planner should review the Project Assessment/Scoping Letter and provide comments based on their early assessment.
Final Design and NEPA
Project design must not advance too far without NEPA approval in order to remain compliant with FHWA regulations. The Project Manager needs to be aware of the design progress in relation to the completion of NEPA for a project. This is especially important for federally funded projects with a single phase funding authorization.
For major projects that require an EA or EIS for the NEPA document the Preliminary Design is developed up to the 30% level in conjunction with NEPA (EA/EIS). Funding for Final Design can be authorized by FHWA after a project attains NEPA approval (FONSI/ROD).
For non-major projects such as pavement rehabilitation, bridge repair, traffic safety, etc. the CE is required between 30% and 95% Design. NEPA should typically be attained by 60%. But, this may not always be possible due to design in relation to environmental analysis requirements. For example the 404 permit requires 60% plans be submitted to the Corps as part of the permit review process so the NEPA approval will come later in the design process. Proceed cautiously to 95% in consultation with the Environmental Planner. Environmental Planning will make a risk assessment for proceeding past 60% based on the relevant environmental issues and the level of environmental work completed. 95% plans can be distributed with Environmental Planning approval prior to NEPA Approval (email). The Project Manager should closely coordinate the timing of plans submittals and the NEPA approval with the Environmental Planner.
NEPA Approval and ADOT Environmental Clearance
All projects with federal funding require NEPA Approval and ADOT requires an Environmental Clearance for final approval. Both approvals are important in the Project Development Process. Typically, for projects that are completed under a “one-step” authorization for federal Preliminary Engineering funds and for which a CE is the appropriate NEPA classification, the NEPA Approval and ADOT Environmental Clearance are completed at the same time as one conflated approval.
NEPA Approval is the completion of the federal NEPA process as indicated by the approval of a CE, EA or EIS. For two-step federally funded design projects, the NEPA Approval date is the date that federal funds can be authorized for final design. For example, once an EA is approved an individual project (or phase) can be authorized for final design funding. The NEPA Approval date is also the date after which FHWA can authorize ROW acquisition and construction funding. If a project requires a NEPA Re-evaluation due to the lapse of time since the date of NEPA Approval, or as a result of design changes, then a re-evaluation approval date will be tracked as a separate approval date.
An ADOT Environmental Clearance is an internal ADOT approval sent from Environmental Planning to C&S to certify that the environmental process and documentation is complete and that the project is ready for advertisement. This is a distinct step in the Project Development Process, separate from the NEPA Approval (ADOT Approved CE or FHWA Approved CE). The Environmental Clearance will include the date of NEPA Approval and provide C&S with the packet of ADOT Environmental Commitments to be included in the Special Provisions. Neither the ADOT Environmental Clearance itself, nor the CE, is included in the final bid package, only the applicable Environmental Commitments. The Project Manager should get confirmation from the Environmental Planner that the Environmental process is completed.
Environmental Commitments include project-specific mitigation measures, permit commitments, special species handing guidelines, or other project related commitments that need to be carried through to construction. There may be specific commitments to avoid, minimize or mitigate an environmental impact including design mitigation measures that must be accounted for through the project development process. Agreed upon project design features that are incorporated specifically to mitigate or avoid an environmental impact are included in the environmental commitments. The Environmental Planner will ensure that any project specific design mitigations are included in the PS&E.
Project-specific mitigation measures may be developed for a project as needed. Development of mitigation measures is to be accomplished in coordination with the appropriate ADOT District(s), the Project Manager, and LPA as applicable, prior to the development of a CE or the submittal of a draft EA or EIS. ADOT Districts play a key role in ensuring that mitigation measures are constructible and agreed upon. For LPA CA projects the CA Agency is responsible for the mitigation measures. The ADOT Environmental Planner will submit the non-standard/project-specific mitigation measures to the appropriate ADOT District, LPA if applicable and ADOT Project Manager for concurrence, prior to final review of the environmental document. Once approved in the NEPA Document/Environmental Clearance the mitigation measures are not subject to change without authorization from Environmental Planning.
If a technical analysis proposes to address project impacts by using mitigation measures the Technical Specialist must inform the Environmental Planner. Environmental Planners coordinate with the ADOT Districts and LPA, if applicable, to ensure mitigation measures are agreed upon and constructible. Environmental Planners are also required to review each stage of plans and ensure that the mitigation measures are incorporated in the PS&E. The Project Manager must continue to send all design submittals to the Environmental Planner even after the NEPA is approved for the project.
During construction of ADOT administered projects, the ADOT RE is the primary ADOT contact and is responsible for communicating construction related environmental issues to the FHWA Area Engineer. On LPA CA Agency administered construction projects the LPA assumes the role of ADOT RE. The Environmental Planner shall further coordinate with the appropriate Environmental Planning Technical Specialists as necessary for issues that arise during construction. Environmental Planning staff shall inform the ADOT RE when additional coordination with outside agencies is required to address environmental issues that arise during construction.
For projects in which there is an environmental consultant to monitor during construction, monitors shall work directly with the ADOT RE to resolve environmental issues in the field and shall keep Environmental Planning, the District Environmental Coordinator and the Project Manager informed of any environmental issues and communications. The ADOT RE is the primary ADOT contact for the project during construction and issues in the field need to be communicated to the ADOT RE.
Resource Agency Liaison Positions
Federal-aid funding for resource agency positions is allowed under SAFETEA-LU for in order to expedite environmental review and project delivery. Environmental Planning manages liaison funding with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the USFWS, the US Forest Service and the BLM.
The US Forest Service has responsibility for the National Forest lands throughout the United States. Numerous routes of the state highway system pass through the National Forests. Liaison staff positions with the Coconino, Tonto and Apache Sitgreaves National Forest administrators in Arizona are maintained by formal agreement between ADOT and the Forest Service.
ADOT funds positions with the USFWS to aid in Section 7 Consultation on Biological Evaluations (BE) and with the US Army Corps for their assistance with expedited Section 404 permitting. The funded liaison positions are to ensure outside agency staff support and to allow ADOT to set the review priorities for ADOT projects requiring action and approval on the part of the resource agencies.
Conflict resolution applies within ADOT as well as with outside agencies, stakeholders, and District staff. Disagreement between the Environmental Planner and the ADOT Project Manager or technical staff needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. The same escalation steps apply with the immediate supervisor being the first step in the resolution process.
Waiting for information can also delay a critical project decision or become a factor in the critical path of the schedule. This escalation process should also be employed if there is no response when critical information is needed to advancing the project development.
At the initiation of a project the Project Manager should send a request to the Environmental Planning Project Delivery Manager for assignment of an Environmental Planner to the project. This request should also include a preliminary scope of work and request for input on the budget [Design Itemized Cost Estimate – Dice] for the purposes of attaining a federal authorization for Preliminary Engineering funds. A Framework Form should also be sent to the Project Delivery Manager at this time if it has been prepared. Environmental Planning will prepare a Project Determination Form (PDS) to help inform the consultant’s task order scope of work for environmental analysis and documentation. The Environmental Planner will send the completed PDS with the environmental level of effort required to the Project Manager. Information from the PDS is used to inform the consultant’s task order/scope of work and can greatly expedite the process and help the consultant deliver the right scope of work for the project. The Project Manager then sends the Framework Form, along with the PDS, to the consultant to request a scope of work and fee.
On ADOT administered projects, including ADOT administered LPA projects, the Environmental Planner reviews the initial environmental scope of work (Framework Form) that initiates all consultant task orders. The Environmental Planner then reviews the task order scope of work and fee received from the consultant. The Environmental Planner will seek assistance from the appropriate technical disciplines within Environmental Planning as part of this review. It is important to ensure adequate/necessary analysis, compliance, and documentation based on the scope of work and predicted impact for the project.
On projects for which the LPA is allowed to administer design, Environmental Planning is available to help the LPA by performing courtesy reviews of consultant scope and man-hour estimates. These can result in time and cost savings to the LPA. A degree of State-funded staff charges are allowed for Environmental Planners to assist in preliminary scoping advice, scope of work definition or cost proposal development. ADOT Environmental Planning can help “right-size” the project scope of work for environmental review activities and costs.
Changes in project scope can precipitate the need for additional environmental analysis or re-evaluation. The timing to secure additional funding can become the critical path for the environmental analysis and the entire project schedule so careful planning of financial resources is of the utmost importance.
Environmental Planning maintains a position on the Project Review Board (PRB). Project Managers will represent the Project Teams for all project issues coming before the PRB and should coordinate with the project Environmental Planner ahead of the meeting for any issues to be brought forth to PRB related to scope, schedule and budget of environmental issues. Environmental Planning will assist the Project Manager in helping to resolve any environmental issues in order to secure federal funding authorizations.
The ADOT Environmental Planning Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) Plan provides QA and QC procedures, CE Assignment MOU requirements, and processes for environmental document review and approval.