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.

  • “Streamlined” Environmental Assessment Writing Template (PDF), Phil Stolarski and Dee Lam, (December 8, 2021). This memo announces the release of a new writing template for “Streamlined” Environmental Assessments. This writing template may be used both for off-State Highway System (local assistance projects) and on-State Highway System (Caltrans capital projects). The intention of the “Streamlined” Environmental Assessment Writing Template is to provide more concise environmental assessments for those projects that have 1-2 build alternatives and for which the potential for significant effect to resources is limited.
  • Changes to Environmental Document Quality Control Review Procedures and Forms (PDF), Phil Stolarski and Dee Lam, (October 22, 2021). This memo announces the modification of the quality control review procedures. The purpose of the new “Integrated Quality Control/Quality Review Procedures” is to increase efficiency of the environmental documentation review and approval process and set achievable required review timeframes.
  • 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 review process for EISs and complex EAs described in the NEPA Assignment policy memos below. Refer to the "Integrated Quality Control/Quality Assurance Review Procedures" section 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

  • CEQA Administrative Record and Email Retention (PDF), Donna Berry and George Akiyama (April 18, 2022).  The purpose of this memorandum is to provide updates, clarification, and guidance on California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) practices regarding retention of email communications relating to highway projects in conformance with state law (Public Resources Code, section 21167.6(e)), federal guidance (Federal Highways Administration Records Disposition Manual), and existing Caltrans policies.
    Effective immediately, Caltrans project delivery staff for capital improvement projects, including managers and supervisors, shall ensure that substantive project emails and attachments are retained via the use of an email “Project Inbox.” Please see the attachments for more details and distribute to your respective environmental teams/staff.
  • Updates on FHWA's "Policy on Access to the Interstate System (PDF)," Janice Benton and Phil Stolarski (March 25, 2020).  This letter to FHWA outlines changes for both the Division of Design and the Division of Environmental Analysis when submitting an "Interstate Access Change Request to FHWA."
  • Geotechnical Services will Perform Subsurface Investigations in the Project Zero Phase (PDF), James Davis (October 20, 2016). This memo requires that geotechnical services be programmed in the PA&ED phase of a project.
  • FHWA Visual Impact Assessment Guidance (PDF), Timothy Craggs and Katrina C. Pierce (November 6, 2015). This memo clarifies that although FHWA has released new "Guidelines for the Visual Impact Assessment of Highway Projects," Caltrans will continue to utilize the 1981 guidance until the new guidance has been evaluated and any applicable tools, guidance, and templates/outlines have been updated.
  • Begin Environmental Studies Milestone for Environmental Tracking Databases (PDF), Katrina Pierce (June 23, 2015). This policy memo requires that each District use an Environmental Study Request (ESR) that includes the signature of the Senior Environmental Planner or designee. The date that the ESR is signed by the Senior Environmental Planner shall be the “Begin Environmental Studies” date entered into any environmental tracking databases. A sample ESR can be found on the SER forms and templates page.
  • Reference Guide for the Issuance of U.S. DOT Highway Easements or Special Use Permits (PDF), Rick D, Land (December 21, 2010). This memo and U.S. Forest Service Reference Guidance is provided as the interim tool for Caltrans and U.S. Forest Service Personnel pending revision of the 1989 U.S. Forest Service/Caltrans MOU.
  • "Blanket" Categorical Exclusion for approval of design exceptions (PDF), Jay Norvell (March 3, 2008). DEA has issued a new "blanket" NEPA Categorical Exclusion for the approval of design exceptions. FHWA determined that approval of design exceptions on the National Highway System is an administrative action that triggers NEPA compliance, even in the absence of federal-aid funding. This CE is used for the approval of design exceptions for projects on the National Highway System that were not otherwise subject to NEPA.
  • Environmental Certification Memo (PDF), Gary R. Winters (June 21, 2004). It announces the new Office Engineer guidelines that require an Environmental Certification. The Environmental Certification was developed to ensure that environmental commitments are properly incorporated into PS&E, construction contracts, and activities on the ground. DEA has a developed a PS&E / Ready to List Review Tool to assist in completing the certification assessment.
  • Relocation Impact Document Survey Processes (PDF), Vernon V. Rhinehart (February 26, 2003). This memo clarifies the process for conducting surveys in preparation of Relocation Impact Documents.
  • Clarification of Right of Entry Memo (PDF), Brice D. Paris and Gary R. Winters (January 7, 2003). This memo provides clarifying guidance and instructions to a memorandum entitled Right of Entry Guidelines for Environmental Work (PDF) issued in May 22, 2002.
  • Balanced Environmental Document Delivery (PDF), Brent Felker (January 2, 2003). Similar to the need to balance planned Ready To List (RTL) delivery (see attached memo), it is critical that you plan to deliver approximately 25 percent of the environmental documents (EIR or Negative Declaration and NEPA equivalents) each quarter during the fiscal year.
  • Context Sensitive Solutions Implementation Plan (PDF), Rick Knapp (October 3, 2002). Attached is the Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) Implementation Plan prepared by the CSS Steering Committee.
  • Environmental Compliance for Best Interest Determinations (BID) During Construction (PDF), Gary R. Winters (April 25, 2002). All Best Interest Determinations (BID) must be forwarded to Budgets Office of Federal Resources with documentation to ensure that air quality conformity requirements have been met, the Right-of-Way Certification remains valid, NEPA requirements have been met and design standards have been met.
  • Designated Disposal, Staging, and Borrow Sites Memo (PDF), Karla Sutliff (December 13, 2001). Caltrans and FHWA have determined that, on those projects which cannot accommodate the disposal, staging, or borrow material needs of the project, the District has the option to identify and clear designated sites, making them available for the contractor's use. Also refer to the Disposal Site Quality Team Final Report Concurrence memo (PDF) (November 21, 2001) from FHWA Division Administrator Michael Ritchie to Caltrans Director Jeff Morales. See also the Disposal Site Quality Team Final Report.
  • "Begin Environmental" Memo (PDF), Brent Felker (November 28, 2001). Effective immediately, all new requests for environmental work will be accompanied by a number of required information items, as described in the Attachment 1 of this memo.
  • Change Control Implementation Memo (PDF), Brent Felker (July 28, 2000), recommends immediate change to the Project Delivery process to streamline 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.