California Department of Transportation

Project Development Workflow Tasks (PDWT)

Part 3 - Identify Project Need and Project Initiation Document

II. Project Initiation Document

B. Develop Initial Alternatives (WBS 150.10) - Develop Concept Alternatives (WBS 150.10.15)

P34. Develop Initial Alternatives

This is the task where the project engineer applies engineering judgment by identifying a range of reasonable alternatives for inclusion in the PID. These alternatives will be developed further during the PA&ED phase.

Distinction must be made between project “alternatives” versus “design variations” or “design options”. Alternatives have substantially different environmental impacts, location or horizontal alignment, design features and costs. Design variations of an alternative are substantially similar and result in nearly identical environmental impacts. Within alternatives, there should be investigations of design variations/options that results in the most cost-effective design. Value Analysis is a tool that may be used to help identify cost effective alternatives for study..

Alternatives are considered to the extent necessary to minimize costs and adverse environmental impacts, and to maximize public benefits. If a project’s impacts require only a Categorical Exemption, Negative Declaration (CEQA), Categorical Exclusion, or Finding of No Significant Impact (NEPA), then only a single build alternative is required. However, alternatives must be formally considered within the environmental review process under any of the following circumstances:

  • When an Environmental Assessment (EA) is prepared (at a minimum, an EA must consider a no-build and a build alternative).
  • When an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared.
  • When a hazardous waste may potentially be impacted.
  • When an adverse impact is expected on any of the following protected resources:
    • Endangered species
    • Public parks, recreation areas, or wildlife and waterfowl refuges
    • Historic sites
    • Aquatic ecosystems, including wetlands
    • Farmlands or Agricultural Preserves
    • Floodplains
    • Scenic Resources

Alternatives should include:

  • The No Build Alternative. The terminology for this alternative is “No Action” as defined by FHWA. guidance and “No Project” as defined by CEQA guidance. The No Build alternative analysis will discuss the existing conditions along with what would be reasonably expected to occur if the project were not approved.
  • Transportation System Management (TSM) alternatives: TSM alternatives maximize the efficiency of the present system. These limited construction alternatives are generally relevant only for major projects in urban areas with a population greater than 200,000. TSM alternatives include options such as fringe parking, ridesharing, changeable message signs (CMS), highway advisor radios (HAR) roadway weather stations (RWS), traffic monitoring stations (TMS) communication links, ramp meters and high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, and traffic signal timing and/or interconnections. HOV lanes should be considered as an alternative for all major urban projects. The District’s Ramp Meter Development Plan shall be consulted for locations requiring ramp meters. For rural areas, an alternative that considers reconstruction and rehabilitation of the existing system should be included before selecting an alternative on a new alignment.
  • Mass transit (bus, rail, etc.): Mass transit should be considered in all proposed major highway projects in urbanized areas over 200,000. FHWA guidance indicates that such alternatives should be considered even though they may not be within the existing FHWA funding authority.

The project engineer must look for solutions that are environmentally friendly, aesthetically pleasing, ADA compliant, and that meld well with local community themes without undue sacrifice of design standards. To do all of this requires good engineering judgment, technical expertise, and a solid understanding of the principles of traffic design.

The project engineer may follow the steps below for developing initial concept alternatives for consideration

  • Determine the basic improvements necessary to meet the need or solve the problem.
  • Select the design standards that shall govern the alternatives (Design speed, capacity)
  • Identify a minimum of one build alternative that meets design standards.
  • Identify other reasonable alternatives but which may not meet all governing standards.
  • Identify safety improvements that should be included.
  • Identify other improvements that may be included.
  • Minimize impacts to the environment and the community.
  • Minimize the need for new right of way and utility relocations.
  • Evaluate the need for additional right-of-way to allow for flatter, less erosive slopes.
  • Consider the scenic value of the highway.
  • Minimize the impact to existing vegetation.
  • Consider permanent treatment BMP’s (basins, swales, etc.)
  • Identify additional right of way to satisfy storm water treatments.

Time Constraint:

The amount of time to develop initial alternatives depends upon the complexity of the project, which is difficult to discern at the start of this task. A single build alternative project may require as little as a week but can take a month to complete. More extensive alternative may require 1 to 3 months to complete.


FHWA Technical Advisory T 6640.8A, Guidance for Preparing and Processing Environmental and Section 4(f) Documents

Guidelines for the Implementation of the California Environmental Quality Act

HDM, (Chapter 100, “Basic Design Policies”)

How Caltrans Builds Projects

Environmental Handbook, Volume 1, (Chapter 4; “Environmental Consideration during Transportation Planning”)

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This page last updated July 20, 2010