Equivalent Approach: Business Process to Link Planning Studies and NEPA Reviews
Equivalence Criteria Met
- Institutionalized Process
- The early and continuous coordination with regulatory and resource agencies
- Public and stakeholder coordination
- Description of planning scope and vision statement
- Alternatives that were considered, selected, and rejected
- Explanation of planning assumptions
- Analysis of the affected environment and environmental consequences
- Potential strategies for broad-scale mitigation
- Description and/or analysis of potential cumulative effects
- A method of documenting FHWA approval
Alignment with equivalence criteria
The corridor planning process outlined in the Business Process meets all of the FHWA required equivalence criteria and several of the optional criteria. The following information describes the components of the corridor planning process that align with the criteria.
Criteria 1: Institutionalized process
Montana's revised corridor planning process has been implemented and resulted in significant savings of time and money. The revised corridor planning process is standardized through the use of a Corridor Planning Study Checklist and formally documented and recognized through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the MDT, FHWA, and several State and Federal planning and resource agencies.
Criteria 2a to 2e, and 3a to 3c
Montana's Business Process establishes a series of eight steps that ensure coordination with the public and stakeholders, analysis of alternatives and the affected environment, and thorough documentation of all decisions and assumptions. Combined, these steps satisfy required equivalence criteria 2a through 2e and optional criteria 3a and 3b. The following is a summary of the eight steps involved in Montana's corridor planning process:
Step 1: Identify corridor study candidate – The decision is made to conduct a corridor planning study, as opposed to an engineering/operational study or NEPA study, and identify corridor planning team.
Step 2: Develop corridor study work plan – The corridor planning team's first action is to develop a corridor study work plan, which includes a corridor study framework, corridor setting document, draft Public Involvement Plan, and Scope of Work. As part of this process, the corridor planning team will hold a formal scoping meeting with stakeholders to develop the Scope of Work and Public Involvement.
Step 3: Develop existing and projected conditions report – The team will conduct an environmental scan and analyze existing and projected conditions. The report should identify corridor deficiencies, stakeholder vision, goals and objectives, key environmental resources and potential impacts, and potential mitigation strategies. This report will also integrate feedback gained through resource agency consultation and public involvement, as each group will have the opportunity to provide initial input and then review and comment on a draft.
Step 4: Identify needs, issues, goals, and screening criteria – The corridor planning team will identify the needs, issues, and goals of the transportation system and use them as a basis for developing alternatives selection criteria. The information on goals and needs may be used in later steps to develop the purpose and need.
Step 5: Determine what alternatives to advance and not advance – The team will develop a full range of alternatives that address the identified needs, issues, and goals. The team will conduct a planning-level analysis for each alternative using the predetermined screening criteria. Documentation of alternatives and/or options advanced and not advanced, along with the rationale for decision will be prepared.
Step 6: Recommend alternatives – The team will recommend a complete package of alternatives and/or options for improving the corridor. At this point, the team will also identify at a broad level, the potential impacts and corresponding mitigation opportunities that would accompany the recommended package of alternatives. The initial avoidance areas, mitigation needs, and opportunities identified by resource and other agencies and the public should be incorporated.
Step 7: Prepare draft corridor study report – This report documents the entire corridor planning process, key findings, and outcomes of the previous six steps. The report should include a description of the alternatives considered, selection criteria, potential impacts and mitigation opportunities, as well as the recommended package of alternatives and its associated next steps. Once the Team completes a draft Corridor Study Report, it will allow time for resource agency and public review and comment on the report.
Step 8: Make recommendations – The team incorporates feedback from these resource agencies and the public to develop the final Corridor Study Report. This report details specific action items, responsible parties, and suggested transition steps from planning to project development and environmental review.
The Business Process also outlines steps to transition from the corridor planning process to project development/environmental review. The first step in this process is to hold a transition meeting with the corridor planning team and FHWA to ensure that the data and products developed are consistent with environmental review criteria. The recommended statement of purpose and need and level of environmental documentation can be discussed during the transition meeting.
1 Available online at http://www.mdt.mt.gov/publications/docs/brochures/corridor_study_process.pdf