What is the Alternative Corridor Evaluation Process?
In 2012, Congress passed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act which, among other things, seeks to increase innovation and accelerate project delivery through the integration of the Planning and Environmental Review phases of project development. The intent is to speed up the project delivery process, saving time and money. Types of planning products that may be used to inform NEPA include:
- Purpose and need or goals and objectives statements;
- General travel corridor and/or general mode(s) definition;
- Preliminary screening of alternatives and elimination of unreasonable alternatives;
- Basic description of the environmental setting; and/or
- Preliminary identification of environmental impacts and environmental mitigation.
It should be noted that the adoption and use of these planning products to meet requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act is subject to determination by the Lead Federal Agency with concurrence of participating agencies and with an opportunity for public notice, comment and consideration of comments by the Lead Federal Agency. The Florida Department of Transportation has established the ACE process to provide a mechanism for developing and documenting planning products for use during the NEPA phase of the project's development, consistent with the requirements of Section 1310.168 of MAP-21 and the Federal Highway Administration Guidance on Using Corridor and Subarea Planning to Inform NEPA.
Following completion of the ACE study and documentation of compliance with Section 1310.168 of Map-21, the FHWA issues an Environmental Class of Action Determination for the NEPA phase of project delivery.
What is the Environmental Class of Action Determination?
The Class of Action Determination identifies the level of documentation required to show compliance with the policies and procedures of the NEPA. There are three classes of actions in the federal NEPA process.
What is the Project Development & Environment Process?
- Class I: Environmental Impact Statements for actions that significantly affect the environment.
- Class II: Categorical Exclusions for action that do not individually or cumulatively have a significant environmental effect.
- Class III: Environmental Assessments for action in which the significance of the environmental impact is not clearly established.
The Project Development & Environment process is Florida's procedure for documenting compliance with NEPA, ensuring early consideration is given to engineering design, project costs, and environmental and social impacts, along with input from the public in the development of a proposed transportation improvement project. It is the second step in the five step highway development process (shown below). At the conclusion of the PD&E Study, the lead agency will be able to determine the location, conceptual design and social, economic and environmental effects of the proposed improvements.
Where in the process is the project now and what can I expect in the near future?
Because the proposed project is a new road with a new interchange connection to I-10, the proposed action is in the planning phase of project development. Two studies are being conducted simultaneously: the ACE study, discussed above, and a toll feasibility study.
The purpose and need for the project, project termini, traffic patterns, Land Suitability Mapping and geometric design constraints were utilized to develop alternative corridors within the project study area. The LSM was supplemented with geographic information system-based datasets from a variety of local, state and federal agencies to identify the locations of the most sensitive natural, physical and sociocultural features in order to exclude them from the area available for the development of corridors. Seven alternative corridors were initially developed and entered into the ETDM Programming Screen on September 18, 2015. The Environmental Technical Advisory Team issued their comments and the Programming Screen was officially closed on November 16, 2015.
Responses to ETAT comments were developed and included in the ACE Methodology Memorandum for the project. The ACE MM describes the criteria and methodology by which the alternative corridors will be evaluated and is under review by the ETAT and the FHWA. Upon approval of the ACE MM, each corridor alternative will be evaluated for its ability to meet the project's purpose and need. Any corridor failing to meet the purpose and need for the project may be eliminated, with FHWA approval. The viable corridor alternatives will be evaluated against the environmental criteria established in the MM. Any alternative having significant environmental impacts or for which a similar alternative with fewer impact exists may be eliminated with FHWA approval. The remaining "viable" alternatives will be subject to a comparative analysis. This information will be summarized in a draft ACE report and made available to the general public and the resource agencies. A Corridor Public Workshop will be held to obtain public input on the corridor analyses. Based on public and agency input, refinements to the alternative corridors may be made prior to producing the final ACE report. The final ACE Report will identify the viable corridor(s) in which alternative alignments will be developed for detailed study during the PD&E process (described above). FHWA issuance of the Environmental Class of Action Determination indicates their approval of the ACE study and is the point when the project will advance to the NEPA phase.