Chapter 3: Environmental

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Section 1: Preliminary Environmental Issues

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A sustainable highway approach provides decision makers with balanced choices among environmental, economic, and social values that will benefit current and future road users. In early project development, it is vital to identify the environmental, economic, and social concerns regarding a project.

This section describes identifying a project’s environmental variables and planning public involvement. These activities should be conducted concurrently with developing the preliminary schematics and determining utility and right of way ownership. Public involvement process applies equally to state and federal projects.

By the Memorandum of Understanding (Assignment MOU) between the US Department of Transportation through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the State of Texas through the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the department has accepted jurisdiction of the federal courts for the compliance, discharge, and enforcement of any responsibility assumed under the Assignment MOU. The department will be deemed to be a federal agency with respect to the environmental review, consultation, and other actions required under the assumed responsibilities. The Assignment MOU is a five-year agreement.

This section includes discussion of the following tasks. These tasks should be performed concurrently as much as possible.

30100. Public involvement

30110. Develop and implement scoping process

30120. Conduct meeting with affected property owners

30130. Collect environmental data

30140. Identify potential Section 4(f) property

30150. Evaluate impacts on waterways and floodplains

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30100: Public involvement

Description. Public involvement is an integral continuous part of project development. The public should have accurate timely access to information and decision making processes. The level of involvement should reflect department policy for public involvement best practices. Focusing on interests rather than positions, successful involvement addresses the public need to communicate community interests and transportation needs while gathering useful information. Using interest based problem solving can expand dialog with constituents and gain support of the public.

Required public involvement involves the following opportunities:

The Transportation Planning and Programming (TPP) Division - Office of Public Involvement (OPI) can provide latest best practice techniques and strategies for public involvement activities throughout the life-cycle of the project.

Pertinent Project Types. Regardless of state or federal oversight, any project can include public involvement elements. The extent of participation depends on project type, level of public concern, and complexity. Some projects have specific public involvement requirements to obtain environmental clearance.

Responsible Party. Project manager


Critical Sequencing.


Resource Material.

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30110: Develop and implement scoping process

Description. Scoping is an early and open process involving the public and other federal, state, preservation and interest groups, and local agencies, conducted to identify the issues to be addressed and for identifying the significant issues related to the proposed project. Scoping meeting is required for the environmental impact statement (EIS) process.

The environmental review process is a useful tool in preparing environmental assessments (EAs) for controversial projects. Scoping may involve preparing a “coordination” or “overview” EA. See Task 10410: Determine need for feasibility (route or corridor) study to analyze modal alternatives.

During scoping or through scope amendments, the core team determines required technical studies for the environmental documents. Coordinate with core team and subject matter experts on appropriate approaches and methodologies. A technical report QC review can be done by peer review or other subject matter expert not directly involved in the report generation.

Project Scope must be approved by the department delegate.

Pertinent Project Types. Projects requiring an EIS. Projects requiring large amounts of ROW, access changes, or substantial public controversy. Seal coats and overlays are exempted.

Responsible Party. Core team – The core team is comprised of a district environmental project manager and ENV project manager. Either may expand the team to include planners, local agency sponsor representatives, consultants, engineers, and subject matter experts.

Critical Sequencing.

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  • As soon as the decision is made to prepare an EIS, initiate the scoping process.
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  • Define the study area and logical termini for the scope of work.
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  • Contact TPP - Office of Public Involvement (OPI) for guidance and meeting planning.



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30120: Conduct meeting with affected property owners

Description. Informal meetings with affected property owners (MAPO) is not a limit to public involvement efforts; additional public involvement may be needed. One or more MAPOs may be held prior to the environmental decision if the project requires detours, temporary construction easements, or minimal right of way acquisition.

The department will hold a MAPO in addition to previous public participation, if a location or design revision results in substantial changes or impacts to affected property owner(s) and occurs after public requirements have been completed.

Property owner(s) are owners of property adjacent to the project as well as other residential or commercial property owners and government agencies impacted by the project.

Pertinent Project Types. Projects involving any of the following factors:


Responsible Party. Project manager


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  • Contact Office of Public Involvement (OPI), for guidance.
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  • Make arrangements to conduct the MAPO.
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  • Ask members of the project team to attend the MAPO to answer questions in their areas of expertise.
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  • Project specifics are presented to the public at the MAPO.
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  • Retain a record of the MAPO in the project file. Include summary of meeting, date(s), who conducted the meeting, attendees, and correspondence. Records will be forwarded to the department delegate when requested.

Helpful Suggestions.

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  • If the number of affected property owners does not appear manageable for a MAPO, a standard public meeting may be more appropriate.

Critical Sequencing.

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  • MAPOs may occur at any stage of the project development process, but must be completed prior to the final environmental decision.

Resource Material.

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30130: Collect environmental data

Description. Environmental document research includes obtaining information from federal, state, and local agency databases, as well as on-the-ground surveys. This data should be used to assess the existing baseline environmental conditions, identify “red flag” resources and areas requiring avoidance considerations, current transportation system, land use trends, local agency planning, and type of environmental document to be prepared.

Maintain an accurate project file. The file allows the project team quick access to important documents and reduces inefficiency and duplication. If a lawsuit is filed challenging the environmental decisions, the project file provides a starting point for the administrative record preparation.

Pertinent Project Types. All projects except preventive maintenance or restoration projects.

Responsible Party. Core team


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  • Perform a site visit to identify and assess environmental constraints, potentially sensitive areas, historic structures, habitats, and landscapes.
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  • Gather information in addition to that gathered during detailed site visits performed earlier. See Task 10110: Perform site visit.
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  • Prepare a baseline environmental constraints map showing the location of sensitive environmental features. The roadway design engineer and environmental coordinator use this map to determine potential environmental effects of proposed alignments.

Helpful Suggestions.

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  • For complex projects or projects with more than one potential corridor, Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping data can be used to automatically calculate impacts.

Critical Sequencing.

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  • Preliminary environmental surveys, data collection, and coordination with local impacted agency goals/objectives should be started early during preliminary design.
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  • Develop the baseline environmental constraints map as soon as practical. It will be used for project decision making. It will serve as an important tool in communicating environmental constraints, and it is the first step in preparing the project’s environmental document.

Resource Material.

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30140: Identify potential Section 4(f) property

Description. Survey the project corridor to locate Section 4(f) property as early as possible in the development when alternatives are under study. Section 4(f) refers to the original Department of Transportation Act of 1966, which implemented policy for preservation of parklands and policy on public lands, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites.

Public land properties of national, state, or local significance include the following:

Section 4(f) properties cannot be used for a federally funded transportation project, unless it is determined that:

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  • There is no prudent and feasible avoidance alternative to use of land from the property.
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  • Project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from such use.

Recreational lands purchased or improved with Land and Water Conservation Fund (L&WCF) assistance may also be subject to Section 6(f)(3) L&WCF Act of 1965, administered by the National Park Service (e.g. Wimberley Blue Hole Regional Park or Matagorda Bay Park & Preserve).

Section 4(f) does not apply to recreational areas, parks, or wildlife and waterfowl refuges owned by private institutions, organizations, or individuals, even if such areas are open to the public. If a permanent easement is needed on these properties, FHWA will determine on a case-by-case basis whether the property should be considered publicly owned and therefore a Section 4(f) property.

Regardless of ownership or public use, historical sites listed or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places at the local, state, or national level are Section 4(f) properties.

Pertinent Project Types. Projects involving right of way acquisition or impacts to Section 4(f) property.

Responsible Party. Department delegate

Helpful Suggestions.

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  • A Section 4(f) evaluation does not necessarily include a Section 6(f) property, but impacting Section 6(f) property will trigger the Section 4(f) process.
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  • Projects with minor Section 4(f) involvement properties may qualify for a Programmatic Section 4(f) Evaluation, or a de minimis finding.
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  • Section 4(f) properties should be avoided to the maximum extent feasible.

Critical Sequencing.

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  • Identify Section 4(f) and Section 6(f) property while developing roadway alignment alternatives.
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  • The FHWA Area Engineer should be the first point of contact for Section (6f) project specific questions.


Resource Material.

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30150: Evaluate impacts on waterways and floodplains

Description. Preliminary structure and hydraulic studies are needed to evaluate environmental impacts of highway encroachments on waterways and floodplains. Changes in water surface elevation, construction in channels, bridge construction methods, etc. commonly impact environmental resources. In addition, an Army Corps of Engineers Section 404 permit may be required for wetland area disturbance, work in channels, channel/stream modifications, and dewatering/construction methods necessary to construct the water crossing structure.

No improvement shall be passed over, under, or through flood protection facilities such as improved channels, floodways, and levees. Excavation, construction, or alteration may adversely impact the function of the protective facilities. USACE should be consulted, if the project will impact protective facilities.

Pertinent Project Types. Projects encroaching on waterways and floodplains

Responsible Party. Core team



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  • Review the waterways in the field and provide input to the drainage engineer regarding environmental aspects of the project. This information can help the drainage engineer develop recommendations.
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  • Review previously conducted hydraulic studies, FEMA maps, local flood control policies, and Corps of Engineers requirements for specific floodplains.
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  • Obtain structures/hydraulics studies when completed and recommend project modifications that reduce environmental impacts.

Resource Material.

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