Directions For Using VIA Annotated Outlines

The VIA Annotated Outlines are designed to be instructional and self-guiding; however, users will benefit from reading these directions.

Using VIA Annotated Outlines will help to ensure that Caltrans complies with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements for determining potential visual impacts on transportation projects. Their use will also assist Caltrans, its partners and stakeholders to ensure that visual analyses are thorough, concise, objective, defensible, and consistent with statewide practices. The annotated outlines are based on the FHWA Visual Impact Assessment for Highway Projects guidance and methodology, and are designed to support and clearly communicate the key findings of the visual analysis.

Three VIA Annotated Outlines have been developed to accommodate different levels of project complexity, controversy, and potential impacts: Minor, Moderate, and Advanced/Complex. Modifications to the outlines may be made if changes are needed to address unique project characteristics. Modifications include making non-standard edits or providing additional information, but omitting steps in the FHWA methodology is not allowed. It is anticipated that a high level of customization of the Advanced/Complex outline could be necessary to accommodate these types of projects.

Each annotated outline contains three types of text:

  • Black text is boilerplate and should be used in the document, but may be edited if necessary for the project.
  • Blue text consists of instructions, guidance, or sample text that should be replaced with project specific information, or deleted from the final document as appropriate.
  • Red text indicates the option to select the correct word or phrase for completing a sentence.

VIA Annotated Outlines

Select the appropriate VIA Annotated Outline below that corresponds to your VIA Questionnaire score.

Score 15-19

Minor VIA Annotated Outline

Score 20-24

Moderate VIA Annotated Outline

Score 25-30

Advanced/Complex VIA Annotated Outline

Calculate VIA Level Score

Project Information

For projects on State Highway System Only, Name of Caltrans District Landscape Architect (DLA) providing VIA Questionnaire Score Concurrence - if different than above.

Change to Visual Environment

  1. Consider all project components and construction impacts - both permanent and temporary, including landform changes, structures, noise barriers, vegetation removal, railing, signage, and contractor activities.

  2. Evaluate the scale and extent of the project features compared to the surrounding scale of the community. Is the project likely to give an urban appearance to an existing rural or suburban community? Do you anticipate that the change will be viewed by the public as positive or negative? Research planning documents, or talk with local planners and community representatives to understand the type of visual environment local residents envision for their community.

  3. Certain project improvements can be of special interest to local citizens, causing a heightened level of public concern, and requiring a more focused visual analysis.

  4. Consider the type of changes caused by the project, i.e., can undesirable views be screened or will desirable views be permanently obscured so a redesign should be considered?

  5. Identify any projects (both Caltrans and local) in the area that have been constructed in recent years and those currently planned for future construction. The window of time and the extent of area applicable to possible cumulative impacts should be based on a reasonable anticipation of the viewing public's perception.

Viewer Sensitivity

  1. This can be researched initially by talking with Caltrans and local agency management and staff familiar with the affected community's sentiments as evidenced by past projects and/or current information.

  2. Consider among other factors the number of viewers within the group, probable viewer expectations, activities, viewing duration, and orientation. The expected viewer sensitivity level may be scoped by applying professional judgment, and by soliciting information from other Caltrans staff, local agencies and community representatives familiar with the affected community's sentiments and demonstrated concerns.

  3. Although the State is not always required to comply with local planning ordinances, these documents are critical in understanding the importance that communities place on aesthetic issues. The Caltrans Environmental Planning branch may have copies of the planning documents that pertain to the project. If not, this information can be obtained by contacting the local planning department. Also, many local and state planning documents can be found online at the California Land Use Planning Network.

  4. Permit requirements can have an unintended consequence on the visual environment. Anticipated permits, as well as specific permit requirements - which are defined by the permitted, may be determined by talking with the project Environmental Planner and Project Engineer. Note: coordinate with the Caltrans representative responsible for obtaining the permit prior to communicating directly with any permitting agency.

  5. Consider the proposed project features, possible visual impacts, and probable mitigation recommendations.

It is recommended that you print a copy of these calculations for the project file.

Project Score:

Select An Outline Based Upon Project Score

The total score will indicate the recommended VIA level for the project. In addition to considering circumstances relating to any one of the ten questions-areas that would justify elevating the VIA level, also consider any other project factors that would have an effect on level selection.

Score 6-9

No noticeable visual changes to the environment are proposed and no further analysis is required. Print out a copy of this completed questionnaire for your project file or Preliminary Environmental Study (PES).

Score 10-14

Negligible visual changes to the environment are proposed. A brief Memorandum(see sample)addressing visual issues providing a rationale why a technical study is not required.

Score 15-19

Noticeable visual changes to the environment are proposed. An abbreviated VIA is appropriate in this case. The assessment would briefly describe project features, impacts and any avoidance and minimization measures. Visual simulations would be optional. Go to the Directions for using and accessing the Minor VIA Annotated Outline.

Score 20-24

Noticeable visual changes to the environment are proposed. A fully developed VIA is appropriate. This technical study will likely receive public review.Go to the Directions for using and accessing the Moderate VIA Annotated Outline.

Score 25-30

Noticeable visual changes to the environment are proposed. A fully developed VIA is appropriate that includes photo simulations. It is appropriate to alert the Project Development Team to the potential for highly adverse impacts and to consider project alternatives to avoid those impacts.Go to the Directions for using and accessing the Advanced/Complex VIA Annotated Outline.