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PEL Questionnaire Equivalents for New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT)

Equivalent Approach: Project Development Process – Planning and Environmental Linkage

The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) Infrastructure Design Directive for the project development process provides statewide guidance on planning and environmental linkages, fiscal constraint, and early and ongoing coordination. The NMDOT Infrastructure Design Directive is widely distributed within NMDOT and to the state's MPOs and RPOs, and it is available online. MPOs and RPOs coordinate with the NMDOT Transportation Districts in the project identification process.


New Mexico Department of Transportation Infrastructure Design Directive Project Development Process – Planning and Environmental Linkage

This Design Directive has been developed to further improve the project development process. This Directive is to be implemented effective immediately on all New Mexico Department of Transportation projects.

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
The process described in this directive supplements the project development process described in the New Mexico Location Study Procedures. It adds a requirement for all proposed projects to undergo a screening review before they are considered for inclusion in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The revisions and pre-STIP screening review improve delivery of New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) projects by limiting the STIP to those projects with a high probability of implementation and by developing better cost and schedule information earlier in project development. Early and accurate project cost and schedule information will enable the NMDOT to improve delivery of projects on time and within programmed budgets and will reduce the number of STIP revisions. Accurate and timely engineering and environmental data and analyses and early public input will also improve the decisions made during the project development process.

The revised process was developed by the NMDOT in collaboration with the New Mexico Division of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The primary changes in the project development process include:

  1. The addition of initial project definition and screening procedures. These procedures have been added to provide early information that can be used to identify, screen, and select projects for inclusion in the STIP.
  2. Increasing the level of engineering and environmental investigations and analyses conducted during the evaluation of alternatives. This change has been made to better define the activities, cost, and schedule of projects that are programmed in the STIP for final design and construction.

The revisions are consistent with Federal Statewide Planning rules (23 CFR 450) and FHWA's environmental impact procedures (23 CFR 771). The revised process applies to all NMDOT projects developed with state and/or federal funds. It is intended for use on projects developed by the NMDOT; it is not intended to change the processes in use by regional and metropolitan planning organizations.

The information included in this directive is limited to a general description of the process followed for project development beginning with project definition and continuing through environmental certification. Detailed information on the various activities required during project development is included in the NMDOT Location Study Procedures. Revisions to the Location Study Procedures addressed by this policy directive are underway. Until the updates are finalized, the current version of the Location Study Procedures is still in effect and should be used in conjunction with the information in this directive.

The Directive and Plan Cover Sheet locations will reside in the Department's external website. The web address is: http://nmshtd.state.nm.us/.

I. Introduction

The procedures herein describe the general steps and work activities followed by the NMDOT to identify and develop projects included in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). Although the project development process begins with the development of a statewide long-range transportation plan and ends with project construction, the primary objective of this directive is to provide guidance for project development as it pertains to the STIP. For this reason, the process described in this document is limited to the steps beginning with preliminary project definition and STIP development and extending through environmental certifications and preliminary design. Statewide planning and final design activities are not discussed. In addition, because it is intended for use on projects developed by the NMDOT, the revisions do not change the processes followed by regional and metropolitan planning organizations.

Project development during the environmental and preliminary engineering phase (i.e., project definition through environmental certification) involves many activities and technical disciplines encompassed under the categories of engineering, environmental investigations, cultural resource investigations, agency coordination, agency consultation, and public involvement. The procedures discussed in this attachment are not intended to provide details specific to how the various analyses are conducted and documented. Rather, the discussion is limited to general guidance regarding:

  • The major steps and activities for each pertinent stage of the project development process
  • The roles and responsibilities of the various groups within the NMDOT for accomplishing each activity
  • The primary objectives and documentation for each step

Detailed guidance for conducting each step of the project development process is provided in the NMDOTLocation Study Procedures, August 2000 version. Updates to the Location Study Procedures are underway. The updates will provide consistency with the process discussed in this policy directive and will incorporate recent changes in federal transportation planning legislation and guidance. Until the Location Study Procedures are updated and adopted, the current version remains in effect and shall be followed in conjunction with this directive.

Statewide Transportation Improvement Program Development Overview

The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) is mandated by Federal regulation (23 CFR 450.216). The purpose of the STIP is to identify capital and non-capital surface transportation projects (or phases of projects) proposed for funding under title 23 U.S.C. (highways) and title 49 U.S.C. Chapter 53 (public transportation). In addition, the STIP must include all regionally significant projects that require action by the FHWA or the FTA regardless of funding source. For example, the addition of an interchange to the Interstate System with state, local, and/or private funds must be included in the STIP even if it will not be constructed using title 23 funds. Similarly, congressionally designated projects funded by congressional earmarks must also be included in the STIP, even though they do not involve title 23 or title 53 funds.

All federally-funded and regionally significant projects must be included in an approved STIP before they can be approved for implementation. The following information is required for all projects included in the STIP:

  • Sufficient descriptive material to identify the proposed project. This includes the type of work proposed (e.g., reconstruction, rehabilitation, capacity improvement, safety improvement, etc.), the route designation, termini, and length, and any other information needed to adequately define the proposed project for programming purposes.
  • The estimated cost for the proposed project. In instances where the project design concept and scope have not yet been defined, a cost range may be used. The anticipated cost may extend beyond the four years of the STIP.
  • The amount of federal funds proposed to be obligated during each program year. For the first year, this includes the proposed category of federal funds and source(s) of non-federal funds. For the second, third, and fourth years, this includes the likely category or possible categories of Federal funds and sources of non-federal funds.
  • Identification of the agency responsible for carrying out the project.

Depending on funding availability and schedule, proposed projects can be programmed in their entirety, programmed by major phase, or programmed for a combination of project phases. Major project development phases include:

  • Preliminary engineering
  • Environmental documentation and certification
  • Right-of-way acquisition
  • Final design
  • Construction

Thus, even if full construction funding has not yet been identified, a proposed project can be programmed for one or more project development phases (e.g., environmental documentation and preliminary design).

An essential step in STIP development is to identify which phases of development will be advanced and to match the project phase with available funding. For example, a proposed interchange project may be placed in the STIP for preliminary engineering even if the design concept and construction costs have not been determined. Typically, large corridor studies and major investment projects (e.g., new or reconstructed interchanges and freeway projects) are programmed in phases. The first phase serves to determine the preferred improvement alternative, estimated cost, and schedule. After the cost is estimated and funding sources have been identified, the construction phase (or first construction project for major improvements implemented in multiple construction phases) can be added to the STIP.

In contrast, smaller projects are often included in the STIP with all development phases included, i.e., preliminary engineering through construction. This approach is typically used when the costs are known and when funding to complete construction is available.

II. Regulatory Basis

Numerous regulations, policies, executive orders, procedures, and guidelines are applicable to the project development process. However, the primary regulatory basis is found within the following:

  • 23 CFR 450 – Statewide and Metropolitan Planning and Programming Regulations
  • 23 CFR 771 – Environmental Impact and Related Procedures
  • 40 CFR 1500-1508 – CEQ Regulations for Implementing NEPA

All of the procedures described in this policy directive are consistent with the above federal rules and regulations.

III. Procedures

Following is a description of the activities, roles and responsibilities, and products for each stage of the project development process. A process flow chart is attached.

  1. Preliminary Project Identification, Definition, and Screening The first stage in the project development process is the identification of potential projects and a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the projects are eligible for inclusion in the STIP. All projects planned for implementation using state and/or federal funds and regionally significant projects requiring FHWA action must be included in a STIP approved by the New Mexico Transportation Commission and FHWA. The steps in this stage include:
    1. Project Definition – This step develops the list of potential projects desired for inclusion in the STIP. Potential projects are identified by the following activities:
      • Each NMDOT District assembles a list of potential projects desired for implementation within the upcoming 4-year STIP period (e.g., 2009 through 2012). The list of potential projects is developed in collaboration with the NMDOT Program Management Division and other NMDOT functional groups (as pertinent), local jurisdictions, regional planning organizations, and other parties having a potential interest in transportation improvements.
      • Each potential project must be supported by information that defines the proposed project including the type of improvement anticipated, route number, anticipated construction limits, and the need for the project. This early in the process, the project need can be limited to a simple but factual statement of why the project is necessary.
    2. Screening Review – All projects desired for inclusion in the STIP must undergo a preliminary screening review. The screening review consists of qualitative and limited quantitative analysis using available data. Extensive quantitative analyses are not required. Key elements of the screening review include:
      • The screening review is limited to critical factors likely to have a substantial effect on project constructability, schedule, and/or implementation cost, or the likelihood of the project being approved by FHWA, FTA, or other authorizing body.
      • The anticipated Environmental Class of Action (i.e., environmental impact statement (EIS), environmental assessment (EA), or categorical exclusion (CE)) is determined using the information assembled for the screening review and professional judgment of staff within the Environmental Design Division.
    3. Lead Responsibility – A Project Development Engineer (PDE) is responsible for leading the screening review. The PDE is typically assigned from a Regional Design Division, although staff from a District Office or the General Office may also fill this role. Determining the Environmental Class of Action is the responsibility of the Environmental Design Division in collaboration with the PDE. The PDE will rely on other NMDOT functional groups for specialty expertise, as needed, such as traffic, drainage, geotechnical engineering, right-of-way, etc. The project definition and screening review information outlined above are documented on a Project Definition Form (PDF), which is submitted to the Program Management Division. The format for the PDF is provided in Attachment B.

  2. STIP Development After completion of the PDF, eligible projects may be included in the STIP. As discussed above, the proposed project must be identified properly with regard to the phase of development being programmed, i.e., preliminary engineering, environmental documentation and certification, right-of-way acquisition, final design, and/or construction. Projects expected to be ready for construction, or for a major project development phase, are placed in the STIP year(s) that match when the work will be performed and when the funding will be expended. Two examples of how projects could be included in the STIP include:
    • A simple project with a defined design concept that will be ready for construction within two years may be programmed for the first two years of the STIP. The activities conducted in year one can encompass preliminary engineering, environmental certification, right-of-way acquisition, and final design. Year two can include construction.
    • A complex project still under study (i.e., preliminary engineering and environmental documentation) but without funding for construction can be programmed in year one of the STIP provided that the project description is limited to preliminary engineering and environmental documentation/certification only. This maintains consistency with the amount of funds programmed with the work to be performed. After a preferred alternative is selected and funding is secured (for the whole project or phase thereof), the STIP can be amended to include project construction.
    Certain categories of projects usually qualify for inclusion in the STIP without the need for an alternatives analysis. These generally include projects with straightforward, uncomplicated scopes, such as pavement rehabilitation and reconstruction, bridge deck replacement, guardrail and fencing, and other projects with minimal environmental impacts. These projects are usually authorized with a categorical exclusion although, in some instances, an environmental assessment may be necessary. When an alternatives analysis is not required, the data to support the project need, design, and compliance with NEPA, historic preservation laws, and other federal and state laws must still be documented.

    Major steps in STIP development include:
    1. Determining STIP Eligibility – STIP eligibility is based on information included in the PDF (see Attachment B) and the following factors: project need and importance to the transportation system; project viability and feasibility; readiness for implementation; stakeholder interest; and funding availability. Projects that are not viable, that do not have a legitimate project need, or that do not have an identified funding source, will not be included in the STIP.
    2. STIP Placement – All projects included in the STIP must have the proper development phase specified:
      • Preliminary engineering
      • Environmental documentation and certification
      • Right-of-way acquisition
      • Final design
      • Construction
    3. STIP Information – The following information is needed for each project (or project phase) included in the STIP:
      • The project phase, i.e., preliminary engineering, environmental documentation/certification, right-of-way acquisition, design, or construction.
      • Descriptive information to identify the project (or project phase) such as type of work, termini, and length.
      • Estimated project cost or range of cost. For large projects, the costs may extend beyond the 4 year STIP period.
      • The sources and amounts of funds to be obligated for each program year. For the first year, the category and amount of federal funds and source(s) and amount(s) of non-federal funds must be specified. For the second, third, and fourth years, the likely category and amount of Federal funds and source(s) and amount(s) of non-federal funds must be specified.
    4. Lead Responsibility – The Program Management Division, in collaboration with the Districts, determines eligibility for and proper designation of projects included in the STIP. Input from the Regional Design Divisions and Planning Division will be used to determine project eligibility and timing, as needed and appropriate.

  3. Alternatives Development and Screening The alternatives development and screening stage applies to projects in the preliminary engineering and/or environmental documentation phases. (Note that this stage of project development corresponds to Phase 1-A, Initial Evaluation of Alternatives, as described in the current Location Study Procedures.) This stage does not apply to projects ready for design and construction and that already have funds programmed for implementation. These projects may be added to the STIP and proceed immediately to environmental certification and design. Work activities completed during the Alternatives Development and Screening stage are listed below. Detailed information about the type of analyses needed and level of effort is provided in the Location Study Procedures.
    1. Data Collection and Analysis – This work activity includes the collection and analysis of engineering, environmental, and other data pertinent to the evaluation of potential projects. Data collected will typically include:
      • Engineering data specific to the existing roadway (for projects involving improvements to an existing facility) including, but not limited to, design deficiencies, facility condition, geotechnical conditions, drainage, utilities, access, and other similar engineering factors.
      • Traffic data including existing traffic volume and composition, crash history, and other data pertinent to the assessment of traffic flow on the existing facility.
      • Environmental data that defines the project setting and context. This includes environmental, cultural, economic, and community data that could affect project implementation or the feasibility of alternatives.
      • Jurisdiction information such as the presence of lands and/or resources managed by other state or federal agencies (e.g., Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, NM State Land Office, etc.) that could affect project approvals.
      • Other data pertinent to the development and analysis of project alternatives.
    2. Purpose and Need – The factors and conditions that demonstrate the need for the proposed project must be assembled, analyzed, and presented. The level of effort to demonstrate project need will vary depending on the type and magnitude of the project. Typical factors that may be used to demonstrate purpose and need include congestion, crash history, infrastructure condition, and/or economic development goals and policies.
    3. Alternatives Identification – This activity includes the identification of reasonable alternatives to the proposed project. Bicycle, pedestrian, and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) elements, where applicable, should be included as components of the alternatives. For most projects, alternatives will be limited to different typical sections and/or alignments. In some instances, the list of reasonable alternatives may include modal alternatives (e.g., transit or lane management solutions). Modal alternatives are typically, but not always, limited to projects in large urban areas developed through the metropolitan planning organization process. For complex projects, context sensitivity and public input are important components in the identification of alternatives.
    4. Alternatives Screening – The screening analysis at this stage is intended to identify alternatives recommended for advancement and eliminate alternatives that are clearly unreasonable or inconsistent with the project purpose and need. The level of effort will vary depending on the type and magnitude of the proposed improvements. Principal factors considered in the screening analysis include responsiveness to project purpose and need, reasonableness, and context sensitivity. For the alternatives screening analysis, the engineering level of effort is generally limited to schematic design and typical section data.
    5. Public Involvement and Agency Coordination – One or more public involvement meetings to obtain input on project issues and alternatives are necessary for most projects. Public input is also part of the process used to identify strategies for context sensitivity. At this point in the project development process, input is desired and appropriate from stakeholder agencies, jurisdictions, and the public. However, because the project is not yet well defined, consultation with resource management agencies is often deferred until the Detailed Evaluation of Alternatives (see Section 4 below). The timing of public meetings will depend on each project; however, for most projects, the meeting is held after existing data are assembled, a preliminary purpose and need statement has been developed, and a preliminary set of reasonable alternatives has been identified. Input from the public and agencies may be used as part of the screening process. Therefore, it is often best to obtain input before the alternatives screening analysis is completed.
    6. Documentation – The findings of the screening analysis are summarized in a brief technical report. The technical report should include a summary of the existing conditions, purpose and need, alternatives identification, findings of the screening analysis, and input from agencies and the public. The report should also identify those alternatives recommended for elimination and those recommended for further analysis, and the basis for the recommendations. In addition, the report should identify data required for the Detailed Evaluation of Alternatives (e.g., traffic forecasts, mapping, location survey, utility investigations, etc.).
    7. Lead Responsibility – The PDE is responsible for leading the Alternatives Development and Screening analysis. The PDE is supported by other NMDOT groups as needed, such as traffic, drainage, geotechnical engineering, right-of-way, etc.

  4. Detailed Evaluation of Alternatives (Alternatives Analysis) The Alternatives Development and Screening is followed by detailed analysis of the alternatives recommended for advancement. (Note that this stage of project development corresponds to Phase 1-B as described in the current Location Study Procedures.) The information developed during this stage serves to identify the recommended alternative, to estimate the cost of project implementation, and to estimate the time needed to complete the environmental process, final design, right-of-way acquisition, and construction. This information is needed to properly place and categorize the project in the STIP. After the alternatives analysis is completed and project funding is identified, the projects can be designated as programmed for right-of-way, final design, and construction in the STIP.

    The analyses conducted during this stage include design, traffic, and environmental factors needed to evaluate and compare alternatives and to estimate project cost and schedule needs. Revisions and updates of the analyses are made as needed to address findings and input from agencies and the public. Detailed information about the type of analyses needed and the level of effort is included in the Location Study Procedures.
    1. Agency Consultation and Coordination – Correspondence and coordination with stakeholder agencies should commence early and continue through the alternatives analysis and environmental documentation stages. This includes coordination with local jurisdictions and the various state and federal agencies having potential interest in the project such as the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division (i.e., SHPO), US Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and other resource management and regulatory agencies, as appropriate.
    2. Conceptual Design – This activity includes the preparation of conceptual engineering plans. The data necessary to complete the various engineering analyses required and to prepare preliminary drawings is assembled. This may include project mapping, location survey data, property ownership, right-of-way, and other data, as needed. Design drawings are prepared at a level adequate to compare alternatives in terms of performance, impact, approximate cost, and constructability issues. Typically, this includes a design level adequate to identify slope limits, right-of-way needs, and approximate quantities. The level of design will vary depending on project complexity and potential for critical environmental and cultural impacts.
    3. Analysis of Alternatives – The analysis of alternatives must be adequate to compare and contrast alternatives in terms of their engineering and environmental consequences. The analysis includes two major elements:
      • Engineering investigations and analyses must be adequate to estimate project cost (preliminary level only), traffic performance, access, drainage impacts and needs, construction footprint, major utility conflicts, and right-of-way needs. General property ownership is also identified. If the project is in an area with a regional ITS architecture plan, the ITS elements included in the project should also be identified and included in the cost estimates.
      • Environmental investigations and analyses must be adequate to compare alternatives and to identify differences in impacts to existing natural, cultural, community, and economic factors. For most projects, field surveys for biological and cultural resources occur during this stage. However, formal consultation with regulatory agencies does not occur until the Environmental Documentation and Processing stage (see Section 5 below).
      The alternatives should also be reviewed for context sensitivity. This includes review of the context sensitive strategies identified earlier in the development process to assess how each alternative responds to critical context needs.
    4. Public Involvement – One or more public involvement meetings are held as part of the detailed evaluation of alternatives. Public input is summarized in the final alternatives analysis report and is part of the criteria used to select alternatives advanced to the environmental documentation stage.
    5. Documentation – The results and key findings of the alternatives analysis are documented in an Alternatives Analysis Report. Major elements of the report include the project purpose and need, alternatives evaluated, and findings of the engineering and environmental analyses. The report also identifies which alternatives are recommended for further evaluation in an environmental document. In addition, the report verifies the type of environmental document (CE, EA, or EIS) to be prepared, the estimated time required to complete the environmental certification and any agency consultation needed, and the estimated cost and construction schedule. Project phasing, when needed, should also be discussed. Approval of the Alternatives Analysis Report by the District Engineer and Chief Engineer is required before the proposed project is advanced to the Environmental Documentation and Processing stage.
    6. Lead Responsibility – The PDE is responsible for leading the Detailed Evaluation of Alternatives. The PDE is supported by other NMDOT groups, as needed, such as traffic, drainage, geotechnical engineering, right-of-way, etc.
    7. STIP Documentation – The Alternatives Analysis Report usually identifies a recommended alternative, estimates the cost of project implementation, and estimates the time needed to complete the environmental process, final design, right-of-way acquisition, and construction. This information is used in determining the year(s) the project is placed in the STIP for right-of-way acquisition, final design, and/or construction. The information requirements for adding a project to the STIP or updating the project in the STIP are the same as discussed in Section 2 above (STIP Development).

  5. Environmental Documentation and Processing The environmental documentation and processing stage includes the activities needed to prepare an environmental document that identifies the preferred alternative and to obtain FHWA certification to advance the preferred alternative into final design, right-of-way acquisition, and construction. Detailed information about the specific data collection, analyses, and decision steps is included in Phase I-C of the current Location Study Procedures.
    1. Preparation of Preliminary Design – The conceptual design plans prepared for the Alternatives Analysis are revised and advanced to a preliminary design level of detail. Preliminary design may include, but does not necessarily require, the preparation of plan and profile drawings, slope limits, preliminary right-of-way plans, conceptual structural design, preliminary utility design, any major related improvements (e.g., drainage ponds), and cost. The preliminary design plans serve as the basis for the final environmental analyses and documentation. Therefore, they must be of sufficient detail to allow a thorough analysis of impacts to cultural, biological, and community resources, and other potential impacts that could result from the proposed project.
    2. Environmental Investigations – The environmental analyses and any updates, as needed, are completed. This may include final noise and air quality analyses, and impact assessments for endangered species, historic resources, wetlands, relocations, access to businesses and residences, and other natural and community resources.
    3. Environmental Documentation and Certification – Environmental documentation (i.e., categorical exclusion (CE), environmental assessment (EA), or environmental impact statement (EIS)) is completed during this stage. This includes preparation of internal review drafts and a final document for agency and public review. Primary work activities include:
      • Preparation of internal review drafts – An internal review draft of the environmental document is prepared and provided to the Environmental Design Division and PDE for review. After review comments are addressed and the document revised, the document is submitted to FHWA by the Environmental Design Division for review and approval for public release. For a project requiring a CE level of effort, the environmental certification is completed with FHWA approval of the CE.
      • Final Document and Public Hearing (for EA or EIS level of effort) – Signature of the final document by the PDE, Environmental Design Division, and FHWA is necessary before the document is distributed to agencies and released for public review. Notice of a public hearing is advertised (or an opportunity for a public hearing, as appropriate) and scheduled in accordance with required notification requirements.
      • Responses to Comments and Project Revisions – Responses to comments from agencies and the public are prepared and any changes to the project and/or project commitments are made, as needed. Responses to comments and discussion of project changes are provided in an Input Synopsis (IS) for projects authorized with an EA, or a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for projects authorized with an EIS.
      • Environmental Certification – FHWA issuance of a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or Record of Decision (ROD) provides environmental authorization for the use of federal funds for final design, right-of-way acquisition, and construction. Environmental certification is limited to the specific phase or phases of the project that are specified in the STIP. For instance, for projects without full funding for construction, certification may be limited to final design and right-of-way acquisition. Future certifications for construction may then be obtained through re-evaluations of the EA or EIS.
    4. Lead Responsibility – The Environmental Design Division in collaboration with the PDE is responsible for leading the environmental documentation and certification activities. The Environmental Design Division and PDE are supported by other NMDOT groups, as needed, to prepare the various sections of the environmental document.

  6. Right-of-Way Acquisition Right-of-way maps may be finalized and the acquisition process started after the project is authorized by FHWA. Right-of-way acquisition is the responsibility of the Right-of-Way Division in collaboration with the PDE.

IV. Additional Considerations

The issues and circumstances encountered on projects will differ depending on the project setting and context. Thus, even though the overall project development process is prescriptive, the specific approach to addressing the needs of each particular project will require careful thought, and the approach must be tailored to meet the needs of the affected community, environment, and project users. It must also be developed considering the available budget, policies, and responsibilities of the NMDOT.

Page last modified on February 12, 2018
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