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Integrated Transportation Decision-making at Maine DOT

cartoon of a man standing at a four-way intersection with six arrows pointing in different directions

Annual Progress Report
and
Implementation Plan
June 2001

Integrated Transportation Decision-making (ITD)

ITD "Basics"

The goal of ITD is to create a transportation planning and project development system that:

  • protects the human and natural environment;
  • enhances public participation;
  • increases public and regulatory agency support for transportation decisions by MDOT and its partners;
  • results in balanced transportation infrastructure development; and
  • saves time and money.

MDOT will meet its ITD goal through the following measures:

  • adopt clear and consistent environmental policies and operating guidance;
  • include the broad range of human and natural environment considerations in transportation decision making by MDOT and its transportation partners;
  • reshape MDOT into an organization with an institutionalized environmental ethic that directly influences daily decision making;
  • integrate existing project review processes [including the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Maine's Sensible Transportation Policy Act (STPA), and the federal Clean Water Act (Section 404), otherwise referred to as the US Army Corps of Engineers' Highway Methodology, and other federal and State environmental reviews] and eliminate duplication;
  • expand the use of collaboration and consensus building, both internally and externally, through stakeholder cooperation and participation; and
  • establish a system of clear accountability throughout MDOT for actions that affect environmental quality.

The ITD process addresses planning, location, design, right-of-way, construction, maintenance, and environmental considerations in a coordinated manner. ITD promotes early impact identification and analysis, as well as upfront definition of project purpose and need. Those approaches and other ITD components foster the broad, open, and objective analyses anticipated under NEPA, STPA, the Highway Methodology, and most recently, TEA-21 Environmental Streamlining.

Implementation Priorities

In the June 15, 2000 Status Report of the ITD Implementation Team, members developed and prioritized a list of ITD implementation tasks. The top four work items selected were:

  • merger documents for NEPA and STPA analyses and procedures, with the long- term goal of incorporating the Section 404/Highway Methodology, Section 4(f) and Section 106 provisions as well;
  • definition of roles and responsibilities under ITD (who does what, and when);
  • programmatic categorical exclusions tailored to MDOT's program and project needs; and
  • an ITD- oriented database structure, to be incorporated into the ProjEx system, that will facilitate consideration of environmental factors during both planning (6- year plan, BTIP) and project development activities.

The ITD Implementation Team originally deferred the preparation of the roles and responsibilities outline until the completion of the merger documentation. However, as a result of the Office of Environmental Services Unit Review and the resulting reorganization, responsibility and oversight for ITD and NEPA have been transferred to the further reorganized Bureau of Planning. Detailed descriptions of the four work items follow:

STPA- NEPA-Highway Methodology Merger

The merger of the STPA, NEPA, and USACOE Highway Methodology processes is at the heart of the ITD effort. Rather than parallel or sequential processes, their activities will be concurrent, with consolidated documentation and record- keeping that satisfy all of the laws. The objective of the merger documentation is to provide MDOT staff and others guidance on how to meet NEPA, STPA, and Highway Methodology requirements and to avoid duplication.

Using the Mid-Atlantic Transportation & Environment (MATE) Streamlining Framework as a model, a " Ten Step" Environmental Streamlining process was drafted to identify agency responsibilities, expectations, and pivotal decision points for achieving process efficiencies. MDOT is currently working with numerous State and federal agencies at the monthly interagency meetings to implement the following:

Environmental Streamlining Framework

"Ten Steps" (from planning to project implementation)

  1. Transportation Planning Process
  2. Scoping
  3. Purpose and Need
  4. Alternative Development
  5. Detailed Alternatives Analysis and Draft NEPA Document
  6. Identification of Preferred Alternative and Conceptual Mitigation Plan
  7. Final NEPA Document
  8. Finding of No Significant Impact/Record of Decision
  9. Final Project Design, Minimization & Mitigation Coordination, and Permit Decision
  10. Project Implementation and Monitoring

The development of the revised integrated environmental review process gives participants an opportunity to share past experiences and to strengthen the interagency relationships that were established during the development of the Highway Methodology NEPA/404 process. These stronger interagency relationships will help to improve understanding and ultimately reduce project delays in the future. Trusting relationships, coupled with the changes noted below, are the keys to fulfilling the goals of TEA-21 (and the Cooperative Agreement). This process is recommended as beneficial and applicable to transportation development projects, regardless of the source of funding.

(Note: this guidance was written assuming that an EA or EIS was prepared. If a NEPA document other than an EA/EIS is prepared, adjustments may be necessary.)

The Ten Steps provide:

  • Linkage between transportation planning process and the project development process through improved coordination
  • Early and concurrent involvement of all agencies in the NEPA decision-making process
  • Concurrent coordination of NEPA, Section 404, Section 106, Endangered Species, Essential Fish Habitat, Clean Air Act, Section 4(f), US Coast Guard, Environmental Justice, Hazardous Materials
  • US ACOE concurrence on the preferred alternative and opportunity to obtain a permit decision at the time of the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or Record of Decision (ROD)

At major process milestones, agencies will participate in a formal concurrence process. After a formal concurrence, agencies will not revisit a milestone unless there is substantive new information that warrants reconsideration

Future efforts include:

  • Disseminate the merger document and educate staff, consultants, and other stakeholders involved in planning and project development activities.
  • Prepare " how to" guidance documents that unify NEPA, STPA, and Highway Methodology procedures and documentation, while helping users understand the distinctions between the acts and the separate standards that project work must meet under each.
  • Disseminate the guidance documents and provide user training and support.
  • Attain the goal of a comprehensive guide that will serve as an operating manual for those working on project planning and development activities.

ITD Organizational Responsibilities

As a result of the Office of Environmental Services Unit Review, responsibility for ITD and oversight for NEPA were transferred to the further reorganized Bureau of Planning. The creation of the Environmental Coordination & Analysis and the BTIP & Major Projects units within the reorganized Plan and Program Development Division, emphasize the Department' s commitment to early environmental planning, streamlining, and integrated transportation decision-making. With recently met staffing needs, both units will be able to deliver on their mission to define Departmental roles and educate staff regarding ITD responsibilities.

These significant steps will strengthen MDOT's ability to incorporate environmental issues into early planning activities, before major decisions are made about a project. In addition, the reorganizations:

  • promote the identification and resolution of potential " fatal flaw" issues affecting projects; and
  • enhance the prospects for developing an interagency process for early and concurrent environmental reviews, which will help expedite project development and save project costs.

MDOT- FHWA Programmatic Categorical Exclusion Agreement

On May 30, 2001, MDOT Commissioner Melrose and FHWA Division Administrator Lariviere signed a Programmatic Categorical Exclusion Agreement, implementing the efforts, begun in early 2000, of a multi- bureau group and a representative from FHWA. [1]

This Agreement establishes protocol to enable self-certifying and programmatic approval by the Maine Department of Transportation (Maine DOT) of specified actions that qualify under 40 CFR 1508.4 Categorical Exclusion. This protocol will be used to determine applicability of federally funded Maine DOT actions for categorical exclusions (CE's) and allow most applicable actions to be certified earlier and more efficiently. Federally funded actions not eligible under the terms of this Agreement will be processed as Environmental Assessments (EA's) or Environmental Impact Statements (EIS's).

Through this Agreement, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) delegates authority and responsibility to Maine DOT for certifying specified actions as CE' s. Maine DOT's Bureau of Planning is administratively responsible for coordinating and processing information on eligible actions, and assuring these actions comply with criteria set forth in this Agreement between the FHWA and Maine DOT. Maine DOT will screen actions to determine whether they are eligible to be certified, and documentation will be available upon request to FHWA at any time for review.

All actions covered by this Agreement comply with 23 CFR 771.115 and .117. In addition, all actions must conform to the specified criteria that apply to the appropriate level of certification. Records will be kept and updated electronically. Information on actions will be initially recorded and recertified at designated phases of project development. Levels of CE certification include:

Self-certifying. These actions appear in 23 CFR 771.117(c), are certified by scope of work, and do not require individual FHWA approval.

Programmatic. These actions comply with 23 CFR 771.117(d), include Maine eligible actions and must meet Maine Checklist criteria before they can be certified by Maine DOT. They do not require individual FHWA approval.

Individual. All other actions conforming to 40 CFR 1508.4 (Categorical Exclusion) must be processed and submitted individually for FHWA approval.

Such a process is intended to ensure early, expedited review and approval of projects that do not have the potential for significant adverse impacts upon the human or natural environment. The goal is to define criteria that, when met by the scope of work and impacts of a specific project, qualify the project for a CE with limited analysis and documentation. This new approach to CE' s will streamline the environmental reviews of transportation projects where NEPA interests are demonstrably protected.

Further steps for this effort include:

  • Circulate Programmatic CE Agreement to MDOT staff and consultants.
  • Create handbook for MDOT staff:
  • Provide educational and technical support to help MDOT personnel learn how to apply the new CE's appropriately.
  • Evaluate effectiveness of process and revise CE lists and process as needed.

Conclusion

As noted above, much progress has been made during the past year in developing ITD, and many challenges remain. Within a relatively short period of time, MDOT has achieved remarkable results with its environmental " re- engineering" initiative. Attitudes and actions relating to MDOT's treatment of the environment in transportation decision- making are evolving. Opportunities exist to incorporate initiatives such as Context Sensitive Design and Environmental Stewardship. Relationships within MDOT, with other State and federal agencies, and with the public, RTAC' s, MPO' s, and special interest groups, continue to improve. Tools to assist in the application of ITD principles are coming on- line. MDOT management at the highest levels is committed to the ITD effort. The prospects for further success are bright.

Work on the implementation tasks, especially the " how to" tools and training needs, continue. Those tools will be crucial to effectively institutionalizing the new environmental ethic. While much remains to be done, with continued top management support and adequate staff resources, MDOT can complete the major milestones in ITD implementation and experience increasing benefits from the new approach.

For further information, please contact:

Duane A. Scott
Program Manager
Environmental Coordination & Analysis
Bureau of Planning
Maine Department of Transportation
16 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0016
207-287-5736 (3131)
207-287-3292 FAX
duane.scott@state.me.us


[1] CE Work Group members were: Carol Webb, James Leary, Brian Burne, Pam Hetherly, David Bernhardt, Michael Vigue, Michael Hoover, Al Belz, Richard Bostwick, Duane Scott, and Jim Linker (FHWA). Other participants in the development and review process included Sylvia Michaud, Janet Myers, and Bill Reid.

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