California Department of Transportation

Module 1: Policy and Process
Lesson 3: Rationale for VIA Training

Slide 51

Rationale for VIA Training

The third lesson in this VIA course entitled Rationale for VIA Training, will explore why it is necessary to train landscape architects, environmental generalists, and others on how to conduct a VIA.

Although Caltrans has conducted seminars and workshops on VIA over the years, and some districts have established their own VIA training, there has been no statewide VIA training since the FHWA conducted classes in the late 1970s and early 1980s.   Those who took the course nearly thirty years ago are on the verge of retirement if they haven’t retired or left the department already.  To achieve statewide consistency, a new VIA course, tailored to Caltrans and its needs, was developed.  The course was provided to each district between 2009 and 2010.  In order to provide for consistent and continuous training, the classroom training has been converted into this on-line course.


Slide 52

Rationale for VIA Training

This third lesson explores the rationale for conducting VIA training.  This rationale is divided into two inter-related reasons:  the purpose of the VIA training and the benefits of VIA training.  These two reasons for conducting VIA training are presented as two separate topics on subsequent slides.


Slide 53

Purpose of VIA Training

The first topic is about the purpose Caltrans has for offering VIA training to its staff.  Caltrans has identified four purposes for VIA training as listed on the slide.

Each arrow bullet will be discussed separately on a subsequent slide.


Slide 54

Awareness of NEPA Delegation

One purpose for conducting VIA training was to increase the awareness of NEPA Delegation among those producing visual impact assessments for Caltrans. As part of a federal pilot program to streamline the environmental review process, Caltrans has assumed sole responsibility and sole liability for processing its own environmental documents. This is referred to as NEPA Delegation—the federal government has delegated to the State of California and specifically Caltrans, the responsibility to review the environmental documents produced by or for Caltrans.  The FHWA no longer conducts a separate review.  Nonetheless, the FHWA is auditing Caltrans’ performance.  The auditing process has several checks and balances in it, including reporting forms that must be filled out by the author of the VIA.  (These forms will be discussed in detail later in this course.)  Consequently, the consistency and thoroughness with which VIAs are produced is of critical importance to Caltrans.  A crucial reason why this training was instigated was to ensure the consistency and thoroughness required by NEPA Delegation. 


Slide 55

Understand Professional Responsibilities

Another purpose for conducting the training was to promote a mutual understanding of the roles and responsibilities that the landscape architect and the environmental generalist have in developing visual impact assessments for Caltrans.   This Flow Chart of Professional Responsibilities is a reminder that team-work is essential in the development of a VIA.  One of the original reasons for conducting this training  as an inter-disciplinary class was to generate an understanding and respect for the roles each profession adds to the VIA process.

You may wish to print this flow chart for reference. 


Slide 56

Establishing Methodological Consistency

The concern Caltrans has with visual issues extends from planning to maintenance.  Although a VIA is typically produced during the planning or early design phases of a project, it is important to note that visual issues and how the VIA process is started, coincides with scoping and concludes with the findings of the VIA being implemented during final design, construction, and maintenance of the facility. 

This chart is a handy reference guide.  The different phases each project proceeds through are listed in separate columns starting with project initiation and concluding with project maintenance.  There are three colored bands extending across the columns in rows. The blue row identifies the processes that are required during each phase.  The green row identifies the products that are produced during each phase.  The yellow row identifies who will be producing the products. 

Notice that the offices of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Analysis are involved in all phases of project development and operations. Other aspects of this chart will be discussed later.

This chart, Caltrans Project Delivery - Visual Impact Assessment Process, is available to print out.


Slide 57

Product Consistent Products

Another purpose for conducting statewide training is so that a VIA done in one Caltrans district will be similar to those done in other districts.  Caltrans is committed to serving all communities equally.  No district or community is being better served by getting VIAs that are more complete or completed more sensitively than other districts or communities.  

Similarly by reinforcing the process that has been the approved method for determining visual impacts for the past thirty years, Caltrans will ensure that how visual impacts are assessed will retain fidelity to the FHWA VIA process now and in the future.


Slide 58

Benefits of VIA Training

Four types of benefits are described in this presentation.  These benefits will be described more fully in subsequent slides.

The image shows an example of how simulations can be used in a VIA document.  This presentation will give the student a better understanding of what tools should be used to assess and document visual impacts and how to best use those tools, generating the benefits listed on the slide. 


Slide 59


One of the most profound benefits of statewide VIA training is the improvement in equity. By providing VIA training to all staff developing visual impact assessments, Caltrans ensures that the process is more equitably applied across the state.

Visual issues are only one of many issues that the Environmental Generalist must evaluate and include in the project’s environmental documents.  Visual issues must be assessed with an equivalent degree of investigation as other items that Caltrans is required to analyze.

Its documentation must also be equivalent to the documentation other issues receive. 

In addition to being analyzed and documented equivalently, the analysis of visual issues must be the same for all populations.  The equal protection clause of the constitution requires that all people, regardless of class, race, or other categorical distinctions, must be equally treated.  The executive order on environmental justice, in particular, requires that Caltrans make an extra effort to ensure that visual issues of the poor and minorities are being treated with the same level of concern as other groups. 


Slide 60


A major benefit to Caltrans and the State of California will be the improved efficiency with which VIAs and environmental documents are produced as a result of this training.  This training emphasizes the need for team work between the landscape architect, the environmental generalist, and other professions involved with the project’s development.  Carrying team work into the production of actual VIAs will alone improve efficiency.  By improving the quality of the initial product, re-work will be reduced to a minimum and production of the VIA and environmental documents will be done more efficiently.


Slide 61

Credibility and Respect

Another benefit of this training is that by consistently improving the quality of the VIA and the environmental document and the efficiency with which they are produced, the credibility of these documents will increase.  This increase in document credibility will promote respect for Caltrans, transportation projects, the state’s decision-making process, and the professions and individuals performing this work.


Slide 62


But in the end the most important benefit is to the public.  By training professionals to perform well when conducting visual impact assessments, Caltrans is helping to sustain or enhance opportunities that create a better quality of life and greater social vitality for the people of California.


Module 1, Lesson 4 - Regulatory Setting