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NEPA and Transportation Decisionmaking

Development and Evaluation of Alternatives

Information on alternatives analysis can be found in the FHWA/FTA SAFETEA-LU Environmental Review Process
Final Guidance, November 15, 2006. On this page, learn about: Alternatives Screening, Range of Alternatives, Logical Termini and Segmentation, and Other Requirements Involving Alternatives Analysis

The identification, consideration, and analysis of alternatives are key to the NEPA process and goal of objective decisionmaking. Consideration of alternatives leads to a solution that satisfies the transportation need and protects environmental and community resources. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) refers to the alternatives analysis section as the "heart of the EIS," and requires agencies to:

  1. Rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives and for alternatives which were eliminated from detailed study, briefly discuss the reasons for their having been eliminated.
  2. Devote substantial treatment to each alternative considered in detail including the proposed action so that reviewers may evaluate their comparative merits.
  3. Include reasonable alternatives not within the jurisdiction of the lead agency.
  4. Include the alternative of no action.
  5. Identify the agency's preferred alternative or alternatives, if one or more exists, in the draft statement and identify such alternative in the final statement unless another law prohibits the expression of such a preference.
  6. Include appropriate mitigation measures not already included in the proposed action or alternatives.

-- 40 CFR 1502.14

Alternatives Screening

Alternatives analysis should clearly indicate why and how the particular range of project alternatives was developed, including what kind of public and agency input was used. In addition, alternatives analysis should explain why and how alternatives were eliminated from consideration. It must be made clear what criteria were used to eliminate alternatives, at what point in the process the alternatives were removed, who was involved in establishing the criteria for assessing alternatives, and the measures for assessing the alternatives' effectiveness.

In preparing NEPA documents, project sponsors should be candid about the rationale for generating, evaluating, and eliminating alternatives. Being as specific as possible is important. If an alternative is eliminated from further consideration because it "does not meet the purpose and need," we must adequately explain how or why this alternative doesn't meet the purpose and need.

Range of Alternatives

During the draft EIS stage all reasonable alternatives, or the reasonable range of alternatives, should be considered and discussed at a comparable level of detail to avoid any indication of a bias towards a particular alternative(s).

Although the "no-build alternative" (which might include short-term minor activities) might not seem reasonable, it must always be included in the analysis. In some cases, the no-build alternative may be a reasonable alternative, especially when the impacts are great and the need is relatively minor, but generally it serves as a baseline against which the other alternatives can be compared.

Transportation System Management alternatives are often evaluated as potential design options. Such alternatives may include high-occupancy vehicle lanes, ridesharing, signal synchronization, and other actions. Also, where appropriate, mass transit options should be considered even when they are outside FHWA's funding authority.

Logical Termini and Segmentation

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 environmental impact statement (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.

-- 23 CFR 771.111(f)

When developing a transportation project, project sponsors should consider how the end points of the action are determined, both for the improvement itself and for the scope of the environmental analysis. Whether the action has "logical termini" or not is also a concern. Logical termini for project development are defined as rational end points for both a transportation improvement and a review of the environmental impacts.

In developing a concept that can be advanced through the stages of planning, environment, design, and construction, the project sponsor needs to consider a "whole" or integrated action. This action should satisfy an identified need, such as safety, rehabilitation, economic development, or capacity improvement. In addition, the action should be considered in the context of local socio-economics and topography, future travel demand, and other infrastructure improvements. Without framing an action in this way, project sponsors may only peripherally meet project needs or may cause unexpected side effects that require additional corrective action. Project sponsors should also be aware of the problem of "segmentation." Segmentation may occur when a transportation need extends throughout an entire corridor, but project sponsors discuss the environmental issues and transportation need of only a segment of the corridor.

An FHWA memo dated November 5, 1993 provides additional guidance on the development of logical termini.

Other Requirements Involving Alternatives Analysis

(Source: FHWA Guidance on Purpose and Need Statements)

Beyond the CEQ requirement of evaluating all or a reasonable number representative of the full spectrum of reasonable alternatives, there are other requirements for analyzing alternatives. These requirements fall under Section 4(f), the Executive Orders on Wetlands and Floodplains, and the Section 404(b)(1) guidelines. To address these requirements and conclusively demonstrate that some alternatives are not prudent or practicable, project sponsors must develop a well-justified purpose and need statement.

The use of land from a Section 4(f) protected property (such as a significant, publicly owned park, recreation area, or wildlife and waterfowl refuge, or any significant historic site) may not be approved unless a determination is made that there is no feasible and prudent alternative for such use. Many factors exist that could render an alternative "not prudent," including cost and environmental impacts. If an alternative does not meet the action's purpose or need, then the alternative is not prudent, provided the purpose and need section can substantiate that unique problems will be caused by not developing the action.

If a proposed action is to be located in a wetland or significantly encroaches upon a floodplain, a finding must be made that there is no practicable alternative to the wetland take or floodplain encroachment. Any alternative that does not meet the need for the action is not practicable. If the action's purpose and need are not adequately addressed, specifically delineated, and properly justified, resource agencies, interest groups, the public, and others will be able to generate one or possibly several alternatives that avoid or limit the impact and "appear" practicable. A well-described justification of the action's purpose and need may prevent long and involved negotiations or additional analyses demonstrating that an alternative is not practicable.

As a rule, if an alternative does not satisfy the purpose and need for the action, it should not be included in the analysis as an apparent and reasonable alternative. There are times when an alternative that is not reasonable is included, such as when another agency requests inclusion due to public expectation. In such cases, it should be clearly explained why the alternative is not reasonable (or prudent or practicable), why it is being analyzed in detail, and why it will not be selected.

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