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Section 3: Environmental Design

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Overview

The work of the Environmental Affairs Division focuses on activities required to obtain and maintain permits from the regulatory agencies. This includes data collection, field studies, and planning activities required by statute. The project landscape architect can be a significant resource to the Environmental Affairs Division and the District Environmental Coordinator throughout the planning and permitting process.

The level of participation in environmental activities will depend on the type and scope of the individual project. There may be significant landscape and aesthetic issues involved in reforestation, wetland mitigation, water quality management, or cultural, historic, and scenic resources. If so, the landscape architect(s) may be deeply involved in the entire process.

In general it is the responsibility of the project landscape architect to be conversant with all environmental issues in the project related to landscape and aesthetic design issues and oversee or assist in the preparation of PS&E required to implement environmental agreements. The following activities assist the landscape architect in fulfilling this responsibility.

This section groups tasks into the following areas:

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Preliminary Environmental Issues and Interagency Coordination

In the investigation of preliminary environmental issues, the landscape architect helps to:

During this part of the project development process, landscape architects participate in public meetings as described in the subsections.

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Review Scope, Cost, and Staff Requirements of Project Development (1400)

The project schematics for all projects should be reviewed at this point since landscape and aesthetic issues may have been identified in initial meetings with municipalities, MPOs, government officials and other stakeholders. Environmental specialists may wish to consult with a district or division landscape architect in these cases. They may wish to involve a landscape architect at this time to assist in the development of environmental documents, particularly if the project will require physical design and construction documents.

Action item

  • The landscape architect should review the project requirements, public hearing summary, and schematics. Make written recommendations to project manager regarding the need for landscape architectural services, in-house or consultant needs, tasks that should be accomplished, areas of overlap with other divisions and sections, and products that will need to be produced.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Determine Public Involvement Needs (3010)

During the schematic review the project landscape architect or reviewer should be alert to information needs related to landscape and aesthetic issues. The reviewer should be alert for secondary and tertiary issues that frequently involve landscape and aesthetic concerns. Some examples of these types of issues are:

  • concerns about visibility to or from a site
  • pedestrian or bicycle safety
  • accessibility
  • noise and vibration
  • new elevated or depressed sections
  • complex interchanges or ramp configurations

Frequently these concerns will involve special landscape or aesthetic treatments. For this reason it is vital to understand alternatives that will be accepted by public interests. Early attention to these issues can simplify later parts of the process.

Action items

  • Notify District Environmental Coordinator of any public involvement needs and recommend items to be included in the public involvement plan.
  • Advise the project manager in writing of any adjustments needed in the scope of work statement, revisions in cost estimates, and recommendations for personnel or outsourcing of work.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Conduct Meeting with Affected Property Owners (3020)

When there are significant landscape and aesthetic issues that will impact the physical design of the highway the project landscape architect should participate in initial meetings with property owners. The objective of these meetings is to identify concerns and develop an understanding of issues. Suggestions related to solutions are inappropriate at this time.

The landscape architect should focus on:

  • individuals and organizations in leadership roles
  • reasons for concern, noise, view, historic, or cultural precedent
  • specific locations
  • individual and group preferences for materials, color, etc.

Action item

  • Develop a written assessment of landscape and aesthetic issues related to the affected property owners along with an initial assessment of design alternatives that could be used to satisfy the concerns identified. The assessment is forwarded to the project manager and the environmental coordinator.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Collect Environmental Data (3030)

Work with District Environmental Coordinator as required, developing necessary base data in cases where visual and aesthetic concerns are a significant part of the environmental component. This would include situations such as major projects in historic urban districts or through scenic landscapes such as national parks or forests.

Action items

  • Collect historic maps, drawings, and photographs. Public libraries and historical societies are primary resources.
  • Obtain copies of reports and plans prepared by federal, state, and local agencies.
  • Perform visual analysis to identify the potential aesthetic or landscape conflicts that may be caused by project construction. Particular emphasis should be placed on identification of sensitive neighborhood characteristics or cultural, historic, or scenic resources.
  • Prepare a visual analysis of the project area. Take care to ensure that the analysis addresses specific issues related to neighborhood, cultural, historic, and scenic resources that may be affected by project design.
  • Provide the District Environmental Coordinator with description of constraints related to landscape and aesthetic resources.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Perform Early Coordination with Review/Resource Agencies (3100)

Where aesthetic issues have been identified or in cases that will involve landscape modification for wetlands, reforestation, or specialized erosion control landscape architects can be helpful in early reviews with regulators.

Action items

  • Accompany District Environmental staff to meetings as appropriate to become familiar with regulatory issues.
  • Advise District Environmental staff on design and constructability of options for avoidance, minimization, and mitigation.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Environmental Documentation

In producing environmental documentation, the landscape architect will be involved in tasks to:

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Conduct Natural Resources Study (3250)

The landscape architects should provide assistance to the District Environmental staff in preparation of natural resource studies as needed. The landscape architect can be of particular assistance in cases where there are aesthetic concerns.

Action item

  • Assist District Environmental staff in the collection and interpretation of landscape and aesthetic data related to the environmental process.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Conduct Cultural Resources Study (3260)

The landscape architects should provide assistance to the District Environmental staff in preparation of cultural resource studies as needed. The landscape architect can be of particular assistance in cases where there are aesthetic concerns.

Action item

  • Assist environmental staff in the collection and interpretation of landscape and aesthetic data related to the environmental process.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Determine Right of Way Relocation Impacts (3310)

Many times the right-of-way impacts involve site usability after a taking, or aesthetic issues related to new construction such as property visibility, shading, noise, or access. In many cases landscape architects can help by preparing plans or other visual media that can illustrate solutions to perceived problems.

Action items

  • Assist right-of-way staff with site evaluations and reuse scenarios related to site usability, visual, and other environmental impacts; the objective is to demonstrate solutions that will minimize impact on the adjacent lands.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Analyze Existing Environment (3315)

Landscape architects should assist District Environmental staff in determining visual and aesthetic impacts to a project site. Particular care should be given to visual design elements that give a site a unique or sensitive character that might be altered by construction.

Action item

  • Assist District Environmental staff with site evaluations related to aesthetic, visual, and other environmental impacts; the objective is to document the relative sensitivity of existing conditions along with actions that may be necessary to avoid, minimize, or mitigate construction impacts.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Determine Project’s Environmental Consequences (3345)

Where landscape and aesthetic issues have been identified as having potential environmental impact, landscape architects should assist District Environmental staff in the determination of environmental consequences.

Action items

  • Assist District Environmental staff with developing the statement of environmental consequences related to aesthetic, visual and other environmental impacts; the objective is to document the relative sensitivity of existing conditions along with actions that may be necessary to avoid, minimize, or mitigate construction impacts.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Prepare Landscape Recommendations (3350)

Based on constraints and research, prepare landscape and aesthetic recommendations. The project landscape architect has primary responsibility for this part of the environmental document. It is important that landscape related recommendations are consistent with TxDOT’s policy on roadside development. Likewise, considerations of aesthetics need to be documented so that they can be coordinated through the detailed design process.

Action item

  • The project landscape architect provides District Environmental staff with formal recommendations for landscape and aesthetic development; recommendations come from the Landscape and Aesthetic Assessment, existing, Landscape and Aesthetics Master Plans, and information gathered in public participation forums.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Prepare Description of Project Alternatives (3360)

When landscape and aesthetics considerations have been identified as a significant component of the project, the landscape architect should assist in the preparation of project alternatives. Contributions of the landscape architects can be very important in relation to construction feasibility.

Action item

  • The project landscape architect assists District Environmental staff with the preparation of alternatives and developing the relative merits of each; emphasis should be on cost effectiveness, maintainability, and constructability.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Prepare Exhibits for Environmental Documentation (3370)

Graphic exhibits in the form of rendered plans; sections and perspectives can be very useful in communicating environmental concepts. The landscape architect should work with environmental staff to develop appropriate graphic exhibits. It is important at this point that graphic representations clearly convey concepts without committing to any physical solution. For example it is wise to keep materials, colors and other design specifics neutral unless they are specifically at issue.

Action item

  • The project landscape architect assists District Environmental staff with the preparation of exhibits to be included in the environmental documentation.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Prepare Environmental Mitigation Plans (3390)

Landscape architects can be helpful in the preparation of environmental mitigation plans, particularly with respect to issues related to constructability and the preparation of PS&E.

Types of mitigation projects where landscape architects can be of assistance are:

  • earthwork modifications associated with aesthetics or wetland construction
  • siting of structures and site development or reconstruction
  • revegetation and reforestation for erosion control or environmental mitigation
  • water harvesting and retention
  • special architectural detailing
  • site planning and development for cultural and historic sites
  • planning and mitigation actions needed to meet visual quality constraints

Action item

  • Provide design assistance needed to support Environmental Mitigation Plans appropriate to the scope and scale of the project.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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Public Hearing

In the final stages of the preliminary environmental design process, the landscape architect may be involved in steps to:

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Conduct Public Hearing (3500)

When landscape and aesthetic issues are clearly involved in the project the project landscape architect should attend the public hearing and participate in the proceedings as appropriate. In most cases the focus should be on fact finding and developing an understanding of public concerns. Suggestions regarding solutions to problems should be avoided at this time. Proposals should be developed later with input from the entire TxDOT design team.

Issues that the project landscape architect should attempt to identify at this point of the process are:

  • Specific sites that have landscape and/or aesthetic issues that impact the design or alignment of the highway and its facilities.
  • Groups or individuals that are pressing landscape and aesthetic concerns.
  • Design specific preferences that may be brought forward by special interests. This may be things as simple as plant types, material types and colors or it may be references to other sites that have preferred or acceptable characteristics.
  • Site-specific characteristics that are considered significant from a landscape or aesthetic point of view. These often take the form of unique architectural details or structures, existing street furniture, or landmark views or topography that has local significance.

Action item

  • Prepare a summary report on landscape and aesthetic issues identified during the public hearing along with appropriate comments, and submit to the project manager and appropriate environmental coordinator; these comments are to allow the responsible individual to respond to public hearing comments.

For specific information on this project development task, refer to the PDPM under the task number referenced in the subsection heading.

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