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Planning & Environment Linkages Implementation Resources

How Does PEL Fit With Program-Level Work?

Note: This information was archived in April 2009. For the current information, see

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In non-urban areas, there is no federal requirement to do a project-specific long-range transportation plan. In these areas, the planning process often begins with the identification of a transportation need and proposed improvement, a corridor study, or a programmatic EIS. A programmatic, or first-tier, EIS is an environmental impact statement that looks at solutions in a broad sense, such as corridor-wide highway improvements. A subsequent project level, or second-tier, EIS would then look at project-level improvements. This approach applies to large or particularly complex transportation projects in urban areas. Specific project planning often begins with corridor studies or some variant of tiered environmental work. Under these circumstances of program-level work, linkages between planning and the environment have routinely been initiated.

Corridor or programmatic studies often evaluate and compare high-level transportation solutions (e.g., highway, transit, etc.) or examine broad "classes" of technology (e.g., vehicle mode) to determine what course of action is locally preferred. In large, urban areas, it can be particularly beneficial to undertake a corridor study in advance of allocating funds to specific projects (e.g., alternatives can be eliminated).

In a corridor study, the focus is on a subarea of the region, in both analysis and the development of strategies. On the other hand, a programmatic EIS is more structured and formal than a corridor study since it follows the procedural requirements of NEPA. However, both corridor studies and programmatic environmental impact statements include necessary elements to link the planning process to NEPA.

Both studies promote a system of decision-making beginning with a high level of analysis, followed by a process similar to a project-level EIS. However, in the normal planning process to date, the data used and the level of analysis do not match the level of detail required in the project-level NEPA process. Many decisions therefore will be made based on other available data, for instance GIS-level data. This may include the following:

This analysis, though at a higher level, still supports a PEL approach. The fundamental goals of developing partnerships and achieving a balanced decision-making process are unaffected. In fact, when done correctly, corridor studies and programmatic environmental impact statements can be used to streamline work typically done during a project-level NEPA process. Subsequent documents need only summarize and incorporate discussions from the prior work done in the NEPA document. This allows decision makers to build on previous decisions.

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Updated: 12/3/2012
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