Avoid environmental hurdles with strong documentation
As the public grows more environmentally-conscious, transportation agencies are taking extra steps to minimize impacts to the human and natural environment. This additional effort is a step in the right direction, however, the extra parameters could impact both a project’s schedule and budget.
Purpose and need statements are required for all levels of environmental documentation from Categorical Exclusions through Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Statements. The success or failure of a transportation project may hinge on environmental documentation.
Environmental documentation must provide clear details with a focused purpose. In most transportation projects, development and documentation of a strong purpose and need statement is an essential foundation for moving a project forward in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
Without demonstrating essential elements of purpose and need in your documentation, project stakeholders may ask why you proposed a costly transportation improvement. Any proposed or necessary actions may come under scrutiny, especially when costs and environmental impacts are compared across project alternatives. Include the following key elements so your next project doesn’t lead to a “no-build” decision after valuable time and resources have been spent with project development.
Two of the most common elements that go into a strong purpose and need statement are traffic capacity/operations deficiencies and system linkage. For road and highway projects, add a traffic capacity and/or operation element into your environmental documentation to strengthen an argument to invest in a transportation improvement. Discussing the roadway’s ability to meet present and projected traffic demands will further support your environmentally-conscious alternative with a practical component that will grab gatekeepers’ attention. Additionally, include a system linkage element in a proposed bridge or a proposed new location alternative to complement environmental considerations that will enhance the project area.
Purpose and need statements that are comprehensive and concise will guide project alternatives to be reasonable, prudent and practicable in accordance with NEPA. Statements may evolve as new information becomes available, as keeping parties updated with pertinent information keeps all proposed alternatives relevant with the newest, most accurate information.
Lou Raymond, PE, AICP believes every transportation project is unique in context, requiring a wide range of environmental understanding, considerations and support. With more than 20 years of environmental experience in the transportation industry, Lou is no stranger to environmental planning projects and NEPA documentation. He actively researches and screens alternative project approaches for environmental impacts to help keep projects on track and moving forward.
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