Chapter 39 - Incorporating Environmental Commitments into Design

What does this topic include?

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 (SHS).

Who should use this information?

This chapter is written primarily for the environmental generalist, coordinator, or environmental document writer. However, the information is useful as well for environmental specialists, landscape architects, right of way agents, project and design engineers, project managers and Resident Engineers.

Acronyms and Terms


- Construction Contract Acceptance


- Construction Change Order


- Categorical Exclusion and/or Categorical Exemption


- Certificate of Environmental Compliance


- California Environmental Quality Act


- Caltrans Division of Environmental Analysis


- Environmental Commitments Record


- Environmental Document


- Environmentally Sensitive Area


- National Environmental Policy Act


- Non-Standard Special Provision


- Project Approval/Environmental Document


- Project Development Team

Phase 0

- Project Approval/Environmental Document Phase

Phase 1

- Design Phase


- Plans, Specifications and Estimate


- Ready to List


- Standard Environmental Reference


- State Highway System


- Standard Special Provision

Links to Guidance

What is an Environmental Commitment?

An Environmental Commitment is a measure that Caltrans or a local agency commits to implement in order to avoid, minimize and/or mitigate a real or potential environmental impact. It can be identified as early as the planning and scoping stages, during the environmental document or design processes, or as late as construction or maintenance of a project. It can be something as simple as a requirement for seasonal work windows or as complex as a treatment plan for cultural resources.

Environmental Commitments Record

An ECR tracks and documents the completion of Environmental Commitments through the Project Delivery Process. It brings all the relevant environmental compliance information together in a single place, making it easier to track progress and easier for project team members (Environmental staff, Project Engineer, Project Manager, Resident Engineer) to identify actions they need to take. The ECR also aids in preparing and updating the RE Pending File, in executing Environmental Certification at the Ready to List stage, and in preparing the Certificate of Environmental Compliance.

An ECR is required for all projects on the State Highway System. The form of the ECR is determined at the District level. For details, see the June 10, 2005 memorandum by the Caltrans Chief Engineer.

For a listing of typical commitments, see the guidance document attached to the memorandum and titled “Environmental Commitments Record Standards and Instructions.” This document guides you to ask the “who, what, when, and where” questions to help logically document the commitments.

A sample ECR form can be found on the SER Forms and Templates page. Please note that regardless of the format chosen to record environmental commitments, mitigation measures required for significant impacts under CEQA should be listed separately from other avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures.

Steps for Incorporating Environmental Commitments

Here is a list of steps to help ensure commitments are included in design. Keep in mind that many of the steps must be repeated throughout the design process. Each of these steps is described later in this chapter.

  1. Review the Project for Environmental Commitments
  2. Check the ECR for the Project and Revise as Needed
  3. Participate in PDT Meetings
  4. Secure Permits and Approvals/Agreements
  5. Identify and Incorporate Contract Specifications and Provisions
  6. Review the PS&E
  7. Complete Environmental Certification for RTL
  8. Prepare a Certificate of Environmental Compliance

1. Review the Project for Environmental Commitments

The ECR must be prepared just prior to completion of the final environmental document determination. Phase 1 (Design) begins after Phase 0 (PAED) has been completed. At this phase, the CE or ED and the project have already been approved. Based on the information in these documents, an ECR is updated for the project. It should reflect environmental commitments made and documented in the approved CE or ED. There is a preliminary design, and funding has been committed to continue, at minimum, to the final design.

Early in Phase 1, review the CE or ED for environmental commitments. The environmental commitments can be found in the “Avoidance, Minimization and/or Mitigation Measures” portions of the ED as well as in the “Mitigation Summary” section. Also, review the Workplan for the project and see if it needs changing or updating, because it may not reflect the environmental commitments. For more on work planning, including information on Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) items for Phase 1, see the Guide to Project Delivery Workplan Standards.

2. Check the ECR for the Project and Revise as Needed

Check the ECR and revise it if there are errors or if there were changes at the Final ED or during a subsequent reevaluation of the CE or ED.

Note that this is an iterative step. The ECR is a living document and must be revised as needed throughout the life of the project. This is especially important since permits may be needed during the Phase 1 stage.

3. Participate in PDT Meetings

A meeting of the PDT should be held at the very beginning of Phase 1. One purpose of PDT meetings is to identify internal tasks that must be scheduled so that all the environmental commitments will be included in the PS&E. Environmental specialists, as appropriate, and representatives from other functional groups who will be involved in the design phase should participate in the PDT as well.

Before the meeting, make sure steps 1 and 2 have been completed. Be sure to confer with involved specialists, landscape architects and others as needed.

Here are a just a few examples of things to discuss:

  • Avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures identified in the CE or ED
  • Seasonal work windows
  • Areas that must be avoided by the contractor (ESAs)
  • Hazardous waste requirements
  • Input from any earlier public meetings that will be relevant to Phase 1
  • Permits and approvals/agreements that will be needed before RTL, and their associated conditions
  • Requirements for pre- and post-construction surveys

Remember, this is an iterative step. Attend PDTs and update the ECR as needed. The PDT should include review and any needed changes to the ECR as a standing item at each team meeting.

4. Secure Permits and Approvals/Agreements

This is a dynamic process where the generalist, design engineers, and specialists must work closely and communicate effectively.

Many permits and approvals/agreements are identified during Phase 0 or earlier but not obtained until Phase 1, when needed design and technical information becomes available. Each of the topic chapters in the Standard Environmental Reference (SER) includes information on typical permits and agreements. For an example, see the permits section in Volume 1, Chapter 14, Biological Resources. Natural Environment chapter.

Permitting involves several distinct actions:

  • Coordinate – work related to informing and obtaining feedback from resource agencies on issues related to their permit/approval during the development of the environmental document;
  • Obtain – work directly involved in securing permits and approval, usually during PS&E, including: preparation of permit applications and additional supporting documentation, payment of fees, and compliance with public notice requirements;
  • Implement – the work associated with ensuring permit terms and conditions are met before and during construction; this does not include long-term monitoring and maintenance;
  • Renew – work associated with ensuring that permit/approval is extended past its expiration if work will extend beyond expiration date;
  • Amend – work involved in renegotiating permit/approval terms and conditions if project or circumstance surrounding project change.

Each Caltrans District has its own procedures for obtaining permits and agreements/approvals. In some districts, permits are obtained by environmental staff, while in other districts, permits are obtained by the project engineers. An important consideration about permits is that they can take a long time to obtain, because of the need to work through the iterative consultation process. This can cause project schedule delays if the project has not been properly scoped and scheduled. Effective scheduling and coordination of internal tasks at the PDT level—as well as proper scoping, resourcing and scheduling in the Project Workplan can help minimize delays.

Generally, there are several conditions/terms associated with each agency permit. The ECR should be revised to include these permit conditions. The PDT should be informed of these conditions as well.

As the permitting and consultation processes proceed and mitigation costs become more defined, remember that biological and cultural mitigation costs of greater than half a million dollars requires HQ-DEA review. For more information, see the memorandum on HQ-DEA Review of Biological and Cultural Mitigation Costs greater than $500,000.

It is important to keep in mind that many terms and conditions of a permit or approval require the preparation and execution of a cooperative agreement. A cooperative agreement is an agreement between Caltrans and another party(ies) for the purposes of doing work on the State Highway System; they are also used to implement environmental commitments. For example, transferring funds to another party to create a wetland mitigation site. The Division of Design has an online training course explaining the basics of cooperative agreements.

5. Identify and Incorporate Contract Specifications and Provisions

Contract specifications and provisions are work items that must be completed by the contractor in order to fulfill the contract requirements. If an environmental commitment does not get incorporated into the plan and addressed in the construction contract by way of a specification or provision prior to being awarded, it is not binding on the contractor and may only be added via a Contract Change Order (CCO). CCOs are costly and time-consuming; therefore, make sure that commitments are included in the original contract.

There are Standard Specifications that appear in most every contract. In addition, there are Standard Special Provisions (SSPs) and Non-Standard Special Provisions (NSSPs) that can be used to direct the contractor’s work as necessary and/or applicable. Note that Standard Specifications and SSPs have been developed and are available for use. An example would be the existing cultural resource specifications. NSSPs, however, are developed for individual projects and require a separate approval process before they can be used. An example would be an ESA, which is site-specific.

To ensure your environmental commitments and/or permits are incorporated into the plan, convey them early in the PDT as soon as they are known. Inform key staff on the team and your District Office Engineer (OE) contact, if necessary, that these are to be incorporated into the PS&E package. This, at times, requires the Generalist to continually coordinate with the Project Engineer until the final PS&E package reflects all environmental commitments.

Caltrans’ Division of Engineering Services Office Engineer (DES-OE) maintains the listing of Standard Specifications and SSPs.

6. Review the PS&E

During Phase 1 of the project, the design will progress from a conceptual plan with no specifications and a rough estimate of costs to the PS&E, a sophisticated set of contract documents that will provide all the information needed to construct the project and any associated environmental commitments.

Designing a project is a give and take process. There are many successive changes needed in order to incorporate all the various project requirements. Communication on the PDT is essential so that design objectives can be met while including the environmental commitments.

Here is a short list of environmental issues that can affect the design of a project:

  • Changes/adjustments to minimize effects on views
  • Avoiding sensitive natural or cultural resources
  • Protecting a waterway or riparian area
  • Adjustments to design to protect air quality
  • Changes affecting placement of noise barriers

On the other hand, there are design issues at this phase that can affect the environment:

  • Incorporation of Traffic Operations elements
  • Hydraulics requirements
  • Utility relocations
  • Construction Staging, Access, Storage and Detours
  • Drainage Easements

In addition to regular meetings with the PDT throughout design, there will be a periodic circulation of the PS&E at various stages of completion. See the Guide to Project Delivery Workplan Standards for more details on when plans are reviewed.

Keep track of environmental requirements throughout the review stages by using the PS&E review tool on the SER Forms and Templates page. The review tool is a detailed checklist for reading and interpreting plans, checking specifications and ensuring that environmental mitigation costs are included in the estimate. The review tool isn’t just for completed designs, but can help identify and track issues through the process. There is also a special section for reviewing the project prior to RTL.

Note: As mentioned above, the ECR should be updated throughout the design process as needed. When the PDT has determined that the design work is complete, it is important to review the final (100%) PS&E to ensure that the PS&E package includes all the environmental commitments and that the scope of the project is consistent with the CE or ED.

7. Complete Environmental Certification for RTL

The last stage of design is called RTL. This is the stage where the PS&E is finished and the project is being prepared for contract advertisement. Before a project can be certified as RTL, an Environmental Certification must be completed by the Environmental Office Chief. The Environmental Certification indicates that:

  • The environmental document is appropriate for the project and remains valid
  • All actions in the PS&E are covered in the environmental document or subsequent permits and approvals/agreements
  • All environmental commitments belonging in the PS&E have been included

This is Environmental’s final opportunity to ensure that all of the above is true and correct. Remember, if the environmental commitments are NOT included in the PS&E package at this stage, they will not be part of the construction contract and will not be binding on the contractor. They can be incorporated later only through the costly and time-consuming CCO process.

For more details on the Environmental Certification for RTL, see the memorandum by the Caltrans Chief for the Division of Environmental Analysis.

Note that the Environmental Certification expires if a project has not been advertised within one year of RTL certification.

The DES-OE has completed a Ready to List Guide (PDF - 3.29 MB) that may be helpful.

8. Prepare a Certificate of Environmental Compliance

The purpose of the Certificate of Environmental Compliance (CEC) is 1) to document the Department’s environmental compliance efforts (see WBS 295.35 of the Workplan Standards Guide) at construction contract acceptance (CCA), also known as Milestone 600, and at Project Closeout (Milestone 800) for all measures specified in final environmental (or other project) documentation, including permits and agreements, and 2) to inform all project stakeholders, including regulatory agencies, as to the outcome of the Department’s environmental commitment measures. At Milestone 600, the Generalist or Environmental Construction Liaison completes the form in cooperation with the Project Manager (PM), Resident Engineer (RE), and Environmental Branch Chief as signatories. At Milestone 800, the form is signed by the Mitigation Specialist (or other responsible staff), the Environmental Branch Chief, and the PM.

Preparation of the CEC assists addressing CEQA (Public Resource Code Section 21081.6) and the Department’s continued environmental stewardship responsibilities. Cross-functional coordination and cooperation (e.g., Design, Construction, Environmental, Office Engineer, PM) is needed to ensure that all commitments have been carried out. Attach the updated Environmental Commitments Record (ECR) to the completed CEC in order to document commitments completed, as specified or modified commitments. The completed CEC, along with the updated ECR, is filed in the project file as evidence that the Department's environmental compliance obligations have been met.

For any commitments not completed by the end of construction (CCA), initiate notification to, and have on-going communication with, appropriate staff including but not limited to, the RE, PM, and Environmental Branch Chief to discuss and document the logistics (timing, staff, resources) of when those commitments will be completed along with identifying who is responsible for tracking such completion efforts. Upon Project Closeout, a final CEC is prepared (along with an updated ECR) to capture the completion of post-construction environmental commitments and placed in the project file.


(Last content update: 03/02/2018, JC)