Volume 1: Guidance for Compliance

I: Overview

Chapter 1 - Federal Requirements introduces the federal laws, Executive Orders, and regulations applicable to transportation projects. There are links to policy, guidance, directives and advisories pertaining to federal environmental laws, and agreements pertaining to National Environmental Policy Act and Department of Transportation Act Section 4(f) compliance. Agreements pertaining to other federal and state requirements are listed below in Section III: Topics.

Chapter 2 - State Requirements addresses the requirements of California law and regulations, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and its Guidelines as well as related state environmental statutes and regulations.   CEQA compliance is required for all projects for which a public agency has a discretionary action unless the project is exempted by statute in an act of the Legislature.   Refer to Section V: CEQA for the preparation and processing of CEQA-only categorical exemptions, initial studies, negative declarations, and environmental impact reports.  Section VI: Joint Documents discusses joint CEQA and NEPA environmental documentation.

Chapter 3 - Public Participation sets forth the legal requirements for public hearings and notices, describes the public participation process during project development and transportation planning, and discusses government-to-government relations between the federal government and recognized Native American Tribal governments.

II: Project Planning and Development

Chapter 4 - Environmental Considerations During Transportation Planning provides a brief overview of the Transportation Planning and Project Initiation processes that occur prior to the Project Approval and Environmental Document phase.

Chapter 5 - Preliminary Environmental Scoping discusses the various types of Project Initiation Documents (PIDs) used to program funds for transportation projects. It then addresses the preliminary environmental scoping documents used to identify the efforts needed to conduct the subsequent environmental studies and prepare the environmental document. The types of programming documents and the timing of the preparation of the preliminary environmental scoping documents differ based on whether the project will be on or off the State Highway System.

Chapter 6 - Formal Scoping Process describes the requirements and process to engage other agencies and parties to formally provide their views on the range and breadth of issues to be addressed in Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or Environmental Impact report (EIR).

III: Topics

Chapter 7 - Topography/Geology/Soils/Seismic provides information and requirements for describing geologic, soil and seismic conditions in the vicinity of the project area as well as an analysis of the potential environmental impacts of project alternatives on these conditions and the potential impacts of geotechnical conditions on the transportation facility.

Chapter 8 - Paleontology provides guidance on pertinent Federal and State statutes as well as recommended procedures and document formats for conducting paleontological studies in response to Federal, State, and local laws, regulations, and ordinances.

Chapter 9 - Hydrology/Water Quality/Stormwater is currently on hold. For more information on these topics, please see the Caltrans Statewide Stormwater Program page.

Chapter 10 - Hazardous Materials, Hazardous Waste, and Contamination provides an overview of the procedures used to address hazardous materials, hazardous wastes, and contamination during the project planning and delivery process.

Chapter 11 - Air Quality covers the regulatory framework and recommended procedures for performing an air quality analysis for both Caltrans and local agency transportation projects. Preparation of the air quality section of the environmental document and supporting technical report are discussed in detail. There is also discussion of air quality requirements throughout the project delivery process, from transportation conformity determinations at the regional planning stage to project requirements during construction.

Chapter 12 - Noise is an overview of Caltrans noise policies and procedures as they relate to transportation project planning and delivery.  Information is provided to give the reader a basic understanding of the need to consider noise impacts, evaluate potential abatement measures and documentation requirements.

Chapter 13 - Energy discusses the policy and procedures regarding energy analysis, including when an energy analysis is required for a proposed project. This chapter also provides general guidance on how to conduct and write an energy analysis.

Chapter 14 - Biological Resources discusses the framework within which biological resources are considered during project planning, development and implementation.  The laws, regulation and policy that apply to biological resources are discussed within the context of project delivery timelines.

Chapter 15 - Waters of the U.S. and the State provides guidance on laws and regulations, agency coordination, assessment and reporting requirements, and information needed for project delivery pertaining to Waters of the U.S. and the State.

Chapter 16 - Climate Change covers the regulatory framework, an overview and background for general climate change (greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions and adaptation) and recommended procedures for conducting climate change analysis and evaluation for projects on the State Highway System (SHS) for which Caltrans is the lead agency under CEQA.

Chapter 17 - Floodplains, discusses the requirements of Executive Order 11988 and the responsibilities of FHWA, Caltrans and local agencies when projects encroach on a 100-year base floodplain.

Chapter 18 - Coastal Zone, focuses on compliance with federal and state laws that protect coastal resources. Background on the applicable laws is given, followed by a general discussion of when those laws apply to a proposed project and what must be done if those laws do apply. References and links to more specific guidance on coastal resources issues are also provided.

Chapter 19 - Wild and Scenic Rivers, discusses all river reaches officially designated as being part of the National Wild and Scenic River System and official “study” rivers. Also lists all river reaches officially designated as “wild”, “scenic”, or “recreational” by the California Natural Resources Agency.

Chapter 20 - Section 4(f), discusses the application and requirements of Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act (49 USC 303). This includes:

  • Publicly-Owned Public Parks, Recreational Areas, Or Wildlife Or Waterfowl Refuges officially designated as such, or when the agency having jurisdiction over the land determine one of its major purposes or functions is for park, recreation, or refuge purposes.
  • Historic sites on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and archaeological sites on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and which warrant preservation in place as determined by FHWA and the SHPO.

Chapter 22 - Land Use includes guidance on dealing with the following issues in the environmental document:

  • Local land use plans (General Plans, comprehensive plans, etc.)
  • Existing and planned land uses and zoning (parks, recreational facilities, community facilities, transportation/circulation plans, agricultural, housing, etc.)
  • Current development trends
  • Past development trends
  • State and Local government plans and policies on land use

Chapter 23 - Farmlands - This chapter is an overview identifying potential impacts to agricultural lands associated with proposed transportation projects. Information is provided that defines the different types of farmlands and the procedures necessary to evaluate them. Relevant California farmland policies are also discussed as well as identification of the agencies responsible for those policies.

Chapter 24 - Community Impacts - This chapter is an overview of the potential community impacts that may be associated with a transportation project.

Chapter 25 - Environmental Justice - This chapter includes a basic overview of the principles of environmental justice and how they are incorporated into the environmental process. Definitions of minority and low-income populations, and other terms related to environmental justice are presented. Laws, regulations and guidance pertaining to environmental justice are also included within this chapter.

Chapter 27 - Visual & Aesthetics Review - This chapter provides an overview of the approach the Department uses to identify visual and aesthetic issues that may result from transportation projects. Information is provided to give the reader a basic understanding of the Visual Impact Assessment and Scenic Resource Evaluation. These studies are used to predict the degree and type of impact proposed projects will have on the “visual” environment.

Chapter 28 - Cultural Resources - This chapter discusses the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and other federal and state laws regarding cultural resources in the environmental review process.

IV: NEPA Documentation

Chapter 30 - Categorical Exclusions, discusses the criteria that a proposed action must meet to be categorically excluded from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the preparation and processing of the Categorical Exclusion (CE) documentation for Caltrans and Local Assistance projects.

Chapter 31 - Environmental Assessment (EA)/Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), discusses the preparation and processing of a NEPA Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). In most cases EAs are prepared jointly with CEQA Negative Declarations. For guidance on joint CEQA/NEPA Initial Studies/Environmental Assessments and joint Negative Declarations/FONSIs refer to Chapter 37 and 38.

Chapter 32 - Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), discusses the preparation and processing of a NEPA Notice of Intent, Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statement, and Record of Decision. In most cases EISs are prepared jointly with CEQA Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs).  For guidance on joint CEQA/NEPA Environmental Impact Statements/Environmental Impact Reports (EIR/EIS) see Chapter 36.

Chapter 33 - Reevaluations discusses the different types of reevaluations, and their processing requirements.


Chapter 34 - Exemptions to CEQA, discusses the criteria that a project must meet to be exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act and the preparation and processing of the Categorical Exemption (CE) documentation for Caltrans projects. Local Agencies may find this guidance useful for CEQA compliance for transportation projects for which they are the CEQA lead agency.

Chapter 35 - Initial Study and Negative Declaration, discusses the preparation and processing of a CEQA Initial Study, Negative Declaration and Mitigated Negative Declaration. 

Chapter 36 - Environmental Impact Report, discusses the preparation and processing of an EIR in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. This chapter also discusses the preparation and processing of documents related to an EIR including, a Notice of Preparation (NOP), a Notice of Completion (NOC), Certification, Findings, Statement of Overriding Considerations (SOC), and a Notice of Determination (NOD). The chapter also includes information on the preparation and processing of a Supplemental EIR, a Subsequent EIR, and an Addendum to an EIR.

VI: Joint NEPA/CEQA Documents

Chapter 37 - Preparing Joint NEPA/CEQA Documentation, provides direction on the preparation of documentation designed to meet the requirements of both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Combined documentation is the most efficient means to comply with state and federal requirements.  One document is prepared and circulated for public review.

VII: NEPA Assignment

Chapter 38 - NEPA Assignment, this chapter provides guidance on NEPA Assignment pursuant to 23 USC 326 and 23 USC 327.

VIII: Environmental Commitments and Design

Chapter 39 - Incorporating Environmental Commitments into Design, this chapter describes required actions so that appropriate Environmental Commitments will be included in the design of both Caltrans’ and local agency projects on the State Highway System.