Equivalent Approach: uPlan/uPEL
Since 2007 the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has been developing a Utah-specific Planning and Environmental Linkages analysis tool (uPEL). The uPEL tool is a geographic planning tool that uses natural resource and demographic data in a GIS format to assess the potential impacts of proposed transportation projects on environmental and community resources. There are two types of data used; tiered data and informational data. Tiered data is organized into three categories based on resource sensitivity and project proximity to the resource. Tier I is assigned to the most sensitive resources and may indicate issues that would lengthen project and regulation time. Tiers II and III demonstrate less critical areas, but may still require potential mitigation, stakeholder concern, or heavy public involvement. If a project has a large number of tiered impacts it may demonstrate potential conflict with stakeholders, delay in time, and elevated project costs. The second type of data, informational data, is not tiered. The informational data should be analyzed closely to determine if effects from project will be positive, negative, or insignificant. The uPEL tool was created to be consistent with the Federal initiative ‘Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Infrastructure Projects,’ which was approved in 2006 by all Federal resource agencies.
The results of the uPEL analysis and all data compiled for uPEL and transportation data provided by UDOT is housed on uPlan, an online interactive map that allows users to view data in conjunction with potential projects. Planners and stakeholders can now view all of the data together on uPlan that was once spread across various agency and UDOT departments. By compiling this data spatially, UDOT and State agencies can establish more positive and productive working relationships, communicate needs, understand issues, and reduce duplication of work, leading to reductions in costs and time requirements, thus helping to create better projects with fewer impacts.
Alignment with equivalence criteria
Criteria 1: Institutionalized Process
The uPEL tool was developed in coordination with multiple State agencies. The State agencies input were used to determine what resources are reviewed and to determine the tier thresholds for each resource. Many of the agencies signed MOUs with UDOT to provide sensitive, non-public data for use in uPEL. These datasets are some of the same resources that would be used in consultation between UDOT and the agency. Direct access to this data through uPEL by UDOT reduces time spent in the planning process analyzing potential impacts for both UDOT and State agencies.
UDOT has employed the uPEL tool statewide during all stages of the 2011-2040 Long-Range Plan (LRP) development. The output of the uPEL analysis is a PEL Report. The PEL Reports were made accessible to all decision-makers during the LRP process via the uPlan website. The uPEL tool can be used to analyze any project in Utah with a spatially defined impact area.
Criteria 2a to 2e, 3a to 3d
The purpose of the uPEL tool is to identify potential project impacts early in the planning process and facilitate discussion and collaboration between State agencies and other stakeholders. The following outlines how the uPEL tool and uPlan website is used to facilitate the fundamentals of PEL in transportation planning. Combined, these steps satisfy the required equivalence criteria 2a through 2e and optional criteria 3a.
1 – Project or Need Identification
First a transportation project or need must be identified through a needs analysis using the Utah Statewide Travel Demand and other methods by UDOT or the public. If a need is identified it must be described in terms of a road alignment that would satisfy the requirements for the uPEL analysis to take place. Multiple alignments can be created for each need. If a proposed project meets the criteria established by UDOT then it moves to the analysis stage.
2 – uPEL Analysis
The boundary of the potential impact area of each project is then processed through the uPEL tool. The uPEL tool has been developed in collaboration with State agencies and uses several non-public data sources managed by the agencies. The output of the uPEL tool is a PEL Report that summarizes all resources that were intersected by the impact area. This report facilitates further discussion on the resource impacts with the affected agencies.
3 – Information Distribution and Initial Screening
The PEL Reports are made available to decision-makers, including multiple State and Federal agencies, via the uPlan website. On uPlan the decision-makers can view the project alignments, adjacent resource and transportation data, and the project PEL Report and factsheet. The PEL Report and factsheet provide context for the project, its potential impacts, and the planning-level assumptions to facilitate discussion.
At this stage, decision-makers will determine the viability of each project based on its potential impacts and provide comments. Decision-makers can make comments through the website or through traditional methods. All comments received for a project are recorded and linked spatially to the project through the interactive map on uPlan.
4 – UDOT Review
UDOT will review comments and make adjustments as necessary. If new alignments are proposed for a need then new PEL Reports are produced.
5 – Secondary Screening and Public Input
The revised PEL Reports are posted to uPlan for decision makers to review. An alternate website that does not house sensitive data is made available for public comment. UDOT will also solicit input from various local groups and the public through public meetings and other alternate formats. Steps 3 to 5 are repeated as necessary until the proposed project meets the needs of stakeholders. This includes a review of the cumulative impacts from all potential projects in a comprehensive PEL Report.
6 – Funding Determination
Once a project has the support of stakeholders it is proposed for funding.
7 – Programmatic Mitigation
UDOT has developed a vision for Programmatic Mitigation in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is working to carry out this vision with other agencies and stakeholders.
8 – FHWA Involvement
FHWA was consulted throughout the process.