Visual Impact Assessment (VIA) for Projects on State Highway System

Landscape architects minimize visual impacts to California’s cultural and scenic resources. This cultural landscape is on Route 1 in Sonoma County.

As seen in the above photo, landscape architects minimize visual impacts to California's cultural and scenic resources. This featured cultural landscape is located on Route 1 in Sonoma County.


A Visual Impact Assessments (VIA) is a technical study required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to assess potential impacts to the visual environment that can accompany highway improvements.

VIAs document the existing visual quality of the surrounding environment, include photo simulations and other visualization exhibits that illustrate the proposed project alternatives, evaluate the expected visual change caused by a project, assess public reaction to the expected change, identify visual impacts, and recommend measures to avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse visual impacts.

Caltrans landscape architects provide design expertise to protect and preserve California's scenic, aesthetic, and environmental resources. They also help protect the scenic quality of the highway corridor by performing VIAs as part of the environmental process for all transportation projects. California Department of Transportation policy requires that VIAs be performed by licensed landscape architects for all internal and external developed projects.

Caltrans VIA Handbook

Below you will find a new VIA Handbook. This is a comprehensive guide to understanding the VIA process when working on Caltrans projects. Within the Handbook, you will find guidance to understand what level of VIA document is recommended, what to consider and why, instructions for entering data into tables, explanation of terminology especially as it relates to FHWA, NEPA and CEQA terms along with a glossary, links to referenced material and links to the appropriate VIA level form or report that is needed.

Caltrans VIA Document Preparation

The following four sections correspond to the VIA level to be used. These four levels are: VIA Questionnaire, VIA Memorandum, VIA Standard Report and, VIA Advanced Report. Each section has links to an online training module and a word version of the form/memo/report (in annotated outline format) that is to be completed.

VIA Introduction and Questionnaire

Use the VIA Questionnaire Form and subsequent score as a guide to help determine a thorough, concise, and defensible level of VIA documentation.

VIA Memorandum Preparation

VIA Standard Report Preparation

VIA Advanced Report Preparation

Additional VIA Guidance and Links


  • FHWA 2015 Guidelines


  • CEQA Guidelines
  • CEQA Checklist 
  • Scenic Resource Evaluation (SRE)
  • Standard Environmental Reference (SER)
  • SER Chapter 27 (Aesthetics)

    Landscape Architecture

  • Project Development Procedures Manual, Landscape Architecture, Ch. 29

    Feedback and Support

    Daniel Tillson-Rodriguez
    Office: (916) 591-3912