Policy Memos

Policy Memos by Subject Area

NEPA Process Improvement Team

In August 2019, the Division of Local Assistance and Division of Environmental Analysis formed the NEPA Process Improvement Team (Team) to review Caltrans’ current NEPA and other federal environmental procedures and policies. The overall Team and the Team’s Steering Committee consists of District and Headquarters environmental staff from both the capital program and local assistance program. The Team is considering federal statute, FHWA’s current regulations and policies, and other state departments of transportation’s implementation of NEPA to determine whether and how to modify our existing procedures and policies to provide for more efficiencies and flexibilities in delivery of Federal-aid projects.  The following memos outline decisions made by the Team.

  • Release of Programmatic No-Effect Memo for Biological Compliance (PDF), Phil Stolarski and Dee Lam, (August 17, 2021). This memo announces the approved use of the attached Biological Compliance Programmatic No-Effect Memo for Caltrans and Local Assistance Projects (programmatic memo). The purpose of the programmatic memo is to streamline the no-effect documentation for projects with very minor to no biological impacts.
  • Alternative Process Guidance for Natural Resource Documentation (PDF), Phil Stolarski and Dee Lam, (June 21, 2021). This memo outlines two alternative processes to existing Caltrans guidance for projects undergoing Federal Endangered Species Act (FESA) Section 7 Consultation (Consultation). These alternative processes are: 1) using the Natural Environment Study (NES) or NES Minimal Impact for Consultation, and 2) solely using a Biological Assessment (BA) to support all biological documentation on projects that require Consultation.
  • Flexibility in Timing of Obtaining Biological Opinions (PDF), Phil Stolarski and Dee Lam, (May 28, 2021). This memo describes the initial implementation of a proposal to allow flexibility in the timing of obtaining biological opinions as long as certain conditions are met, as part of the federal Endangered Species Act Section 7 and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes.
  • Changes to Species List Requirements (PDF), Phil Stolarski and Dee Lam (April 9, 2021).  This memo modifies Caltrans’ requirements related to obtaining species lists as part of our Federal Endangered Species Act (FESA) Section 7 process.  A flowchart is attached to the memo to guide biologists in determining when a species list is required.
  • Categorical Exclusion Checklist Not Required (PDF), Phil Stolarski and Dee Lam, (March 2, 2021). This memo announces that the Categorical Exclusion Checklist (CE Checklist) is no longer required but can be used as an optional tool.

NEPA Assignment

SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 38, provides further clarifications on the Environmental Document Quality Control Program and the 5-step review process for EISs and complex EAs described in the NEPA Assignment policy memos below. Refer to the "Environmental Document Review Process" and "Environmental Impact Statement, Complex Environmental Assessment, and Individual Section 4(f) Evaluation Review Procedures" sections of Chapter 38. Also, refer to Forms & Templates of the SER for the latest version of forms and checklists referred to in the NEPA Assignment policy memos.

Environmental Documents and Determinations

  • NEPA Programmatic Categorical Exclusion Agreement for Non-Highway Projects (PDF), Phil Stolarski (May 28, 2021). This memo outlines the procedures for processing non-highway projects under the 2021 Programmatic Categorical Exclusion Agreement.
  • Mandatory Filing of Notices of Exemption for Projects Subject to CEQA (PDF), Gina Moran, March 21, 2012. This policy memo requires that a CEQA Notice of Exemption be filed with the Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR), State Clearinghouse. This requirement applies to any project on the State Highway System for which the Department has determined that the project is exempt from CEQA.
  • Policy Implications of Sunnyvale West Neighborhood Association et al v. City of Sunnyvale, 190 Cal. App. 4th 1351 (PDF), Kelly C. Dunlap, July 28, 2011. This policy memo discusses the requirement to compare environmental impacts of a proposed project to baseline conditions as required by CEQA, and it clarifies the Department's approach for traffic modeling in regard to the proposed build project and baseline conditions.
  • Interim Guidance on Mobile Source Air Toxic (MSAT) Analysis in NEPA Documents (December 6, 2012) can be found on the FHWA website.  [This guidance was superseded October 2016.]
  • Cumulative Impact and Growth-Related, Indirect Impact Analyses Guidance (PDF), Kelly C. Dunlap (October 9, 2007) The Guidance for Preparers of Cumulative Impact Analysis helps preparers conduct cumulative impact analysis in support of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the California Environmental Quality Act and other related environmental laws/regulations.
  • Joint Guidance FHWA/Caltrans NEPA Consultation/Reevaluation Guidance (PDF), Jay Norvell, (June 21, 2007). This memo discusses the joint guidance of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) on Caltrans NEPA Consultation and Reevaluation Guidance.
  • Department is the CEQA Lead Agency for Projects on State Highway System (PDF), Gary R. Winters (June 24, 2004). It draws the attention to the current and long-standing policy that the Department is the CEQA lead agency for improvements projects on the State Highway System. In limited cases, and only when it is in the best interests of the State, the Department may delegate CEQA lead agency status to a local agency. The attachments to this memo sets forth the Department's policy regarding CEQA lead agency status for projects with local participation and provides guidance and considerations to assist districts in determining CEQA lead agency status on local participation projects.
  • Field Office Workload Reduction - Farmland Protection Policy Act (PDF), Thomas Weber (Natural Resource Conservation Service), (April 30, 1999). Suspends the requirement for NRCS field offices to make determinations on farmland that is committed to development through local actions. NRCS will defer to local zoning and other commitments (funds, plans , etc.) for development and not determine whether such lands are "farmlands" under the FPPA. The assumption will be that these lands are not farmland as defined by the Act. This ruling has the potential to eliminate the time normally required to coordinate with NRCS on lands in or committed to urban development.
  • PUC General Order 131-D (PDF), R.W. Giess (December 13, 1995). Relocations of power lines and /or substations operating at 50 KV and above must be reviewed under CEQA at both the project planning phase and at the relocation plan approval stage so as to qualify for an exception in compliance with section IX.B of the General Order.

Mitigation/Environmental Commitments

(Also see: Biological Issues)

Quality Control/Quality Assurance

Environmental Considerations in Project Delivery

Biological Issues

(Also see: Mitigation/Environmental Commitments)

Historic Resources and Community Issues

(Also see: Mitigation/Environmental Commitments)

  • Native American Monitors (PDF), Gary R. Winters (November 4, 2003). This memo clarifies the current policy and expectations for Native American monitors on projects developed by Caltrans. An information sheet (PDF) provides the history of the Department's practice of engaging Native Americans for archaeological and construction monitoring.

Noise Issues

Policies and Protocols Related to Noise Studies (PDF), Katrina Pierce (June 30, 2015). This memo clarifies existing federal policies for noise analysis to ensure consistency in District practices. Additionally, the memo notes that if a noise study was completed under the 2006 Protocol, and had to be re-evaluated due to design changes after the effective date of the 2011 Protocol, noise abatement commitments found to be both reasonable and feasible under the old policy cannot be dismissed solely based on the updated policy criteria.

Hazardous Waste Issues

Stormwater Issues

Performance Measures

Environmental Certification Form—Revision to Track PLAP Performance Measure (PDF), Jay Norvell (November 21, 2006). This memo discusses the Program Level Action Plan (PLAP) that was published by the California Department of Transportation (Department) in 2006. This plan sets forth goals for the Department and contains objectives and performance measures for obtaining those goals.