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PEL Questionnaire Equivalents for Massachusetts Department of Transportation

Equivalent Approach: Project Development & Design Guide

Equivalence Criteria Met
  1. Institutionalized Process
  2. Required:
    1. The early and continuous coordination with regulatory and resource agencies
    2. Public and stakeholder coordination
    3. Description of planning scope and vision statement
    4. Alternatives that were considered, selected, and rejected
    5. Explanation of planning assumptions
  3. Recommended:
    1. Analysis of the affected environment and environmental consequences
    2. Potential strategies for broad-scale mitigation
    3. Description and/or analysis of potential cumulative effects
    4. A method of documenting FHWA approval
In 2006, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Highway Division revised its design manual to encourage a more flexible and accommodating approach to the design and construction of roadways. The new Project Development and Design Guidebook1 (Guidebook) provides direct guidance on how to advance a project from planning to construction. The guidance outlines a planning process and documentation standards that will ease the transition from the planning study to the NEPA analysis.

Alignment with equivalence criteria

The MassDOT Highway Division's Guidebook meets all of the FHWA required equivalence criteria and several of the optional criteria. The following information describes the components of the Guidebook that align with the FHWA criteria.

Criteria 1: Institutionalized process

Project proponents are required to follow the project development process described in the guide whenever MassDOT is involved in the decision-making process. The procedures are also written to be a useful resource for projects that do not fall under MassDOT jurisdiction, including those that are locally sponsored, funded, and reviewed.

Criteria 2a to 2e, and 3a to 3c

The project development process outlined in the Guidebook defines the need for early identification of issues and alternatives, open and continuous involvement with project stakeholders, and a clear decision-making process. This process should ensure that community values, natural, historic, and cultural resources, and transportation needs are fully considered throughout the planning, design, and construction phases of a project. The Guidebook describes an eight step project development process, and describes several pieces of required documentation. The first three steps are particularly relevant to PEL, and address equivalence criteria 2a through 2e, 3a, and 3d.

Step 1: Identify problem, need, and opportunity
As part of step 1, a Project Need Form (PNF) is completed. The PNF provides sufficient material to understand the deficiencies or needs related to the transportation facility. The PNF should document the problems (i.e. the scope of issues to be considered in the planning phase), and explain why corrective action is needed (i.e. establish preliminary project goals and objectives). The PNF also includes information on identification of interested parties and documentation of public outreach and feedback to date. Completed PNFs are submitted to the MassDOT Highway District. The District reviews the PNF and will then notify the proponent of its recommendations for continuing the project initiation process.

Step 2: Planning
Projects that require further planning will result in the preparation of a Project Planning Report. The PNF outlines the scope of issues to be considered in the planning phase. Project proponents are encouraged to tailor planning activities appropriate to the extent, complexity, and type of project to ensure that all project benefits, impacts, and costs are objectively estimated. As part of this process, the proponent must also conduct a public participation program, provide information regarding the project's consistency with State and regional policies, and based on all the information gathered in the planning process as well as public input, decide whether to continue the project development process and to submit a Project Initiation Form (PIF), as described in step three.

The final Project Planning Report provides a summary of the process, public outreach, and decisions made in step 2, including the following:

  • Project goals and objectives statement, similar in form and function to the purpose and need statement of an environmental document and is suitable for use in these documents if they are required for the project;
  • Project definition, including a description of the proposed project, project alternatives considered, and definition of future conditions;
  • Project benefits and impacts, including consistency with appropriate State and regional criteria;
  • Project consistency with policies and local plans;
  • Public outreach process, including documentation of public outreach during planning process; and
  • Final recommendations.

Step 3: Project Initiation
The next step in the project development process involves summarizing the findings in a Project Initiation Form (PIF). The PIF includes the following information:

  • Project Type and Description, including locus map
  • Summary of project planning process
  • Preliminary identification of the NEPA project category for review and programming purposes
  • Definition of the proposed project management responsibility, i.e. the entities responsible for implementing the remaining activities, including NEPA, design, and construction.
  • Definition of an interagency (including local boards) coordination plan
  • Definition of a public outreach plan for the design process
  • Project Need Form or Project Planning Report as an attachment
  • Transportation Evaluation Criteria as an attachment. The criteria are used to assess and prioritize projects for inclusion in the Transportation Improvement Program.

The Project Review Committee and the MPO uses the PIF to review and evaluate the project for programming. After reviewing the PIF, the Project Review Committee will provide comments to the proponent identifying additional planning needs or provide guidance for the development of the environmental and design documents.

1 Available online at http://www.vhb.com/mhdGuide/mhd_Guidebook.asp

Page last modified on February 12, 2018
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