Chapter 5 - Preliminary Environmental Scoping
- What Does This Topic Include?
- Laws, Regulations, and Guidance
- Further References
- Background: Project Initiation Documents
- For Projects on the State Highway System
- Preparing and Processing a PEAR
- Requesting a PEAR
- Level of Effort, Risk Management, Assumptions, and the Risk Register
- General Analysis Methods
- Environmental Assessments
- Contents of a PEAR
- Reviewing and Approving the PEAR
- Preparer Qualifications
- Resources and Schedule by WBS Code
- Estimating Resources
- Estimating Project Schedule
- Task Management
- For Projects Off the State Highway System
This chapter discusses preliminary environmental scoping (distinct from formal scoping which is discussed in Chapter 6) and the use of the Preliminary Environmental Assessment Report (PEAR) which identifies the efforts needed to conduct the subsequent environmental studies and prepare the environmental document during the Project Approval and Environmental Document (PA&ED) phase. This chapter also briefly discusses the various types of Project Initiation Documents (PIDs) currently used to program funds for transportation projects. For information regarding formal scoping for Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) projects, please see SER Vol. 1, Chapter 6, "Formal Scoping."
Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) regulations to implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) require early scoping of a project (23 Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] 771.111). The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) recommends but does not specifically require early scoping prior to the Notice of Preparation (CEQA Guidelines Sections 15082 and 15083).
California Government Code Sections 14526(c) and 14527(g) require the preparation of PSR or major investment study prior to inclusion of any proposed project in the Interregional Transportation Improvement Program (ITIP) or the regional transportation improvement program (RTIP). For projects not located on the State Highway System (SHS), a PSR equivalent or a major investment study is required prior to inclusion in the RTIP. Caltrans also requires the development of a PID prior to inclusion of a project in the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) or State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP).
Local Assistance Procedures Manual (LAPM), Chapter 6, "Environmental Procedures." Exhibit 6-B in Chapter 6 requires the preparation of a Preliminary Environmental Studies (PES) form for all local agency Federal-aid transportation projects off the SHS.
The Project Initiation phase ("K" phase) is the first formal project phase in developing a solution for a specific identified transportation deficiency. The outcome of this phase is a PID that establishes a well-defined purpose and need statement and a project scope that is tied to a reasonably foreseeable cost estimate and schedule. An approved PID is required for capital improvements on the SHS using state funds and for any major work on the SHS regardless of funding source.
There are several types of PIDs: the "standard" Project Study Report (PSR); the Project Study Report-Project Development Support (PSR-PDS); the Project Initiation Report (PIR) used for SHOPP projects; and several other specialty types.
The PSR identifies the project's scope, schedule, and estimated cost, including the capital outlay components through right-of-way acquisition and construction. The PSR should be reserved for projects where all support, right-of-way acquisition, and construction costs will be programmed or funded at once or within a STIP cycle, such as STIP projects that qualify for a Categorical Exemption (CE).
In 1997, state legislation mandated that all projects programmed in the STIP have a PSR that identifies the funding allocation for specified project development components, one of which is environmental studies and permits. The same legislation also prohibited programming funds for capital costs (right-of-way acquisition and construction) unless those two project development components could be completed during that STIP programming period. In response to that legislation, Caltrans developed the PSR-PDS to program only the support costs needed to achieve project approval.
The PSR-PDS facilitates programming of STIP projects by identifying only the scope, schedule, and estimated support costs and resources necessary to advance the project through PA&ED. All STIP projects requiring an environmental document (i.e., Initial Study [IS] and Negative Declaration/Mitigated Negative Declaration [ND/MND] or Environmental Impact Report [EIR]) must use a PSR-PDS to program the capital support component of the project and a PEAR is required. Detailed right-of-way and construction cost estimates are deferred until after the project is approved. The Project Report (PR) is then used to program the remaining support and capital components (i.e., development of plans, specifications, and estimates [PS&E], right-of-way acquisition, and construction) of the project. The cost of environmental permits and commitments is a capital expense and is programmed along with right-of-way and construction costs.
The PIR is used for documenting project planning, scoping, and programming efforts for SHOPP projects and has replaced the use of the Project Scope Summary Report (PSSR). The PIR is to be used for all SHOPP projects except for the 20.XX.201.130 – Major Damage (Emergency Opening) Program that is initiated with a damage assessment form. The PIR is used to program all phases of a project, but more detailed cost estimates are prepared for the PA&ED phase and resource needs should be discussed with the functional units to ensure a "bottoms up" estimate. The CTC now allocates SHOPP projects by phase, so later phases can be re-visited and "right-sized" prior to requesting the allocation.
Please note that only the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption (categorical, statutory, or "common sense") can be signed during the PID phase of a project. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) categorical exclusion cannot be signed until the project has been programmed. For further guidance, please see the Fact Sheet for FSTIP Considerations in NEPA Approvals.
More information on the Project Initiation process can be found in the Caltrans Project Development Procedures Manual (PDPM) and on the Caltrans Division of Transportation Planning, Office of Program and Project Planning webpage, including the PSR-PDS Guidance webpage and the SHOPP PIR Guidance webpage.
PID development begins with an initial Project Development Team (PDT) meeting. The PDT is composed of staff from the various Caltrans District/Region functional divisions, including Environmental, and may include affected local and regional agencies and other stakeholders. Early in the PID development process, the team develops the purpose and need and the preliminary scope of the project based on earlier system or corridor planning.
Please refer to Chapter 9 of the PDPM and SER Vol. 1, Chapter 4, "Environmental Considerations during Transportation Planning" for detailed discussions of PIDs.
A sample blank PEAR template, Mini-PEAR template (see below), PEAR Environmental Studies Checklist, and all required attachments can be found on the SER Forms and Templates page.
A PEAR is a concise (approximately 1 to 15 pages), project-specific scoping document designed to identify potential environmental issues and constraints that will be addressed in the NEPA or CEQA documentation, the risks and assumptions that were used to anticipate those issues, the anticipated level of environmental documentation, and the resources and schedule needed to complete the PA&ED phase. If potential impacts can be clearly expected based on preliminary information, a PEAR should include the anticipated mitigation measures or other environmental commitments and their estimated costs. The PEAR also includes a best-estimate workplan that is the basis for requesting resources for the PA&ED phase (some Districts may include estimates for later phases, depending on the type of PID that is being prepared). The PEAR makes a critical contribution to the PID because it provides the initial environmental "look" at a project and its feasible alternatives for programming in the STIP or the SHOPP. When used with a PSR-PDS, the PEAR includes all the information required for a standard PSR except the capital cost estimates.
To determine the appropriate level of environmental document, make a preliminary determination of whether the project may have a significant effect on the environment. If PID resources allow, scoping at this stage may involve early consultation with local, regional, state, and federal agencies and interested persons with even a minor stake in a project to identify significant environmental issues and reduce the chance of conflict at critical times later in the project.
Formal scoping, required for an EIS, is described in SER Vol. 1, Chapter 6, "Formal Scoping Process" and Chapter 32, "Environmental Impact Statement." Guidance for all other types of scoping efforts is provided in CEQA Guidelines Section 15083 and Council on Environmental Quality Memoranda Regarding NEPA Regulations and Scoping, as well as in SER Vol. 1, Chapter 31, "Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)," Chapter 35, "Initial Study and Negative Declaration," and Chapter 36, "Environmental Impact Report."
The PEAR is not an appropriate vehicle for conducting and reporting detailed environmental analysis. A PEAR is not an environmental document and it is not a report of environmental analysis. The intent is not to create a cumbersome volume of paper to accompany every PID, but to clearly outline and estimate the scope, schedule, and cost for achieving PA&ED and, in the case of a standard PSR, for environmental commitments as well.
In December of 2013, the Department introduced the "Mini-PEAR." The Mini-PEAR is a tool to provide the minimum level of environmental scoping that should be undertaken at the PID phase of a project to develop the project's environmental scope, schedule, and cost in later phases. The addition of the Mini-PEAR as a tool does not change any existing policy regarding when a PEAR must be prepared, and the use of the Mini-PEAR is not required. A Mini-PEAR should be no more than three pages (excluding attachments) and should be based on existing environmental documentation and the use of GIS tools (see below) to identify environmental resources within the project area. It is recommended that the Environmental Planner/Generalist (generalist) consult with their specialist staff even for a Mini-PEAR to ensure that critical issues are not overlooked. If sufficient PID hours are available, participation by the generalist in a PDT field review is encouraged. A Mini-PEAR should focus on those environmental issues most likely to affect project scope, schedule, and cost. For more information, please see the example Mini-PEAR template, which can be found on SER Forms and Templates page. If the anticipated environmental document is an EIR and/or EIS, the preparation of a standard PEAR is strongly recommended to avoid unanticipated costs and project delays.
In 2015, the "PEAR Tool" was added to STEVE. The tool consists of two main components: the PEAR Tool form and the PEAR Tool GIS. The PEAR Tool form allows users to create a new, or modify an existing, PEAR or Mini-PEAR. The PEAR Tool GIS component allows a user to open a map with the project limits already defined and displayed. Once a project-specific map has been created, users can select the desired layers, or subject matter, that should appear on the map. Users can also set a buffer around their project site for each of the selected layers. As an added benefit, the GIS tool includes not only Caltrans environmental data, but also external agency environmental data. Please note that cultural resources data is not included due to confidentiality laws that prohibit disclosing the location of these resources.
To initiate work on a PEAR, the Project Manager (PM) or Project Engineer (PE) submits an Environmental Study Request (ESR) to the appropriate Senior Environmental Planner (SEP) or environmental designee. The ESR provides the information environmental staff needs to begin the PEAR.
If all the information for a complete ESR is not yet available, the PDT must identify what information is critical to establishing the viability of an alternative. The team needs to agree on the assumptions to be used in the absence of information and agree on a timeframe for the validation of these assumptions. Assumptions should be made in consultation with Environmental staff to minimize delays later in project development. These assumptions and the risks associated with them must be documented in the PEAR.
The PM, PE, and generalist coordinate with one another to determine how many copies of the request package are required for a particular project or if the request package will be distributed electronically.
Level of Effort
The higher the risk related to a project, the more consideration should be given to conducting more detailed scoping, including field reviews, for the PEAR.
Careful consideration should be given to the following when determining the level of effort for the PEAR:
- PID Type: The PSR-PDS and PIR are considered streamlined PID documents and will necessarily contain less detail than a standard PSR. The PEARs for these types of PIDs should also contain less detail than a PEAR prepared for inclusion in a standard PSR.
- Available Resources: Check with the District PID Program Manager and/or PM to determine whether resources are available to conduct field reviews and more thorough scoping efforts.
- Project Type: Projects that require acquisition of substantial amounts of right-of-way, relocation of utilities, roadway widening, bridge improvements, and/or drainage improvements are at higher risk for delay due to environmental issues.
- Project Location: Projects located within or adjacent to a sensitive area (e.g., a coastal zone), are at higher risk for environmental delays and costs associated with planning and implementing strategies to avoid or mitigate environmental effects.
- Internal Processes: Staff availability, competing priorities, and resources allotted to the "K" phase of the project can affect the schedule for later phases of the project.
- External Processes: Regulatory agency approval time, adding new alternatives, and time for partner agency decisions can increase the risk for delays. Consider whether early consultation and/or public outreach would be beneficial to the project outcome.
The PEAR outline also requires documentation of any assumptions that were made while preparing the PEAR, particularly assumptions that would affect the scope, schedule, and cost. For example, an assumption might have been made that data recovery for an archaeological site would not be needed later in the project development process. The PEAR must document that assumption and briefly describe the likely risk to the project's schedule and cost if that assumption proves incorrect. Assumptions for resources are also included in the “Bottom Up” Tool.
Risk management is the systematic process of planning for, identifying, analyzing, responding to, and monitoring project risks. Project risk is an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on at least one project objective. Project risk management is most effective when first performed early in the life of the project and continued throughout the course of project development. During PEAR preparation, consider the environmental risks that could be associated with the project, and document the risks in the PEAR to the extent possible based on what is known at this early stage. Generally, risks will be associated with specific assumptions made in the PEAR or with recognized environmental uncertainties. Keep in mind that environmental risk identification will help the PDT to manage and monitor project risks as they arise and change throughout the life of the project. For more information, please see the Project Risk Management Handbook. It is important to help the project team focus on specific issues that present a high risk to project scope, schedule, or cost and to recommend actions to reduce these risks.
In addition to documenting risk and assumptions in the PEAR, it is critical that Environmental Staff participate in the development of the project's Risk Register. The Risk Register is a tool used to formally document both risks and assumptions in order to minimize changes to the project's schedule, scope, and cost. In addition to external risks such as challenges to the environmental document, unanticipated archaeological discoveries, delays in obtaining permits, etc., it is equally important to document internal risks such as a delay in receiving the ESR after the PA&ED phase has been opened, scope changes, staff turnover, etc. For more information, please see the Environmental Risk Register Guidance.
Staff roles and responsibilities may vary by District; however, the following is a general description of staff involvement in the PEAR preparation and approval process.
Senior Environmental Planner (SEP)
The SEP, or a designee, is responsible for planning, estimating the necessary resources to complete the PEAR, and supervising the environmental personnel in order to complete the PEAR by the agreed-upon date. The SEP prioritizes and assigns work to generalists and specialists; monitors progress; attends meetings as required; and comments, reviews, and approves the PEAR in a timely manner. Specialist input from other District/Region functions or offices may be needed to inform the PEAR.
The generalist is the environmental team leader, coordinating the activities of a multidisciplinary team of environmental specialists. The generalist writes a PEAR that accurately summarizes information the specialists provide, including schedules and resource estimates.
The generalist circulates the PEAR to the environmental specialists, PE, and PM for review. After review and revisions, the generalist submits the PEAR to the SEP and PM for approval. For projects scoped as an EA or EIS, the generalist must obtain concurrence on the class of action from the Headquarters DEA Environmental Coordinator. See the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 38, "NEPA Assignment," for additional information on the class of action concurrence. The generalist submits copies of the signed and approved PEAR to the PE, PM, and the Environmental file. In some cases, the PEAR may also be distributed to Right of Way in order to record Phase 9 (Right of Way Capital) costs associated with the project in the project's Right of Way data sheet.
As a member of the PDT, the generalist reports to the PE and the PDT on the status of the specialist's assessments and current environmental issues; potential risks; how any potential problems are being handled and resolved; if assumptions were confirmed; and the ability to meet the agreed-upon deadline. In these meetings, the generalist discusses potential scheduling, cost, and consequences of project alternatives that may adversely affect identified environmental resources. The generalist identifies any additional data required to complete the PEAR.
The generalist shares research results among team specialists as appropriate when that information may benefit another specialist's research efforts (e.g., water quality and biology) or when potential avoidance, minimization, and/or mitigation measures for environmental impacts could result in impacts to other resources. The generalist also shares assumptions and the results of any studies provided by other functional units, such as Planning, Design, or Geotechnical.
Various environmental specialists identify potential issues and constraints for the PEAR. Their responsibilities are much the same as the generalist's in terms of procedure and documentation, but contents differ. Specialists are responsible for providing the following information in their area of expertise:
- Conducting background research and providing a summary of the findings in their area of expertise.
- Conducting GIS reviews using the tools listed below under "Preliminary Review."
- As resources allow, conducting "windshield surveys," or on-the-ground site visits and documenting the types of surveys conducted.
- If resources allow, consulting with other local, state, and federal agencies and other organizations and individuals, providing a list of contacts or sources consulted, and documenting the results of consultations.
- Providing lists of known resources and their sensitivity, which may include mapping.
- Documenting their assumptions made in preparing their assessments.
- Documenting the anticipated environmental effects.
- Identifying opportunities to modify a project's scope or to include project features to address the remediation of barriers to wildlife passage or to enhance wildlife connectivity.
- Identifying studies that are necessary for the NEPA and/or CEQA documentation.
- Documenting whether a cumulative impact analysis is needed in the PA&ED phase.
- Recommending potential environmental commitments and alternatives, if appropriate.
- Identifying high-risk environmental concerns and recommending actions to reduce the risks to the project scope, schedule, and cost.
- Determining what permits, licenses, approvals, and certifications (PLACs) and interagency coordination will be needed.
- Preparing the applicable portion of the PEAR Environmental Studies Checklist.
- Providing estimated resources (for both Caltrans staff and consultant staff) by Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) code.
- Providing a schedule for completing studies in the PA&ED phase, including the time required for the Division of Right of Way to obtain permits to enter for environmental studies. Keep in mind that the hours needed to complete a task do not represent the duration of that task when creating a schedule. For example, biological surveys may require only 80 hours to complete but the number of staff dedicated to that task can change the duration, and the overall project schedule can be affected if the surveys have to be done during a certain time of year.
- Providing cost estimates for environmental commitments and permitting for standard PSRs and PIRs.
- Providing a summary that the generalist may include in the PEAR.
The specialist may plot all known resources or locations of potential sensitive resources on maps and include this with the documentation. To the maximum extent possible, and in order to secure resources, the specialist attempts to identify all anticipated long-term post-construction maintenance or monitoring.
Environmental staff performs PEAR studies for a project commensurate with the magnitude of potential impacts of the project, the environmental sensitivity of the area, and the level of detail in the PID document.
For a PSR-PDS, the completed PEAR provides sufficient information to accurately estimate the resources required for PA&ED. For a PSR and other types of PIDs, the PEAR also includes cost estimates and schedules for the entire capital project, including funds and resources needed to obtain permits and implement environmental commitments and monitoring. Note that the PSR-PDS contains less detail than a standard PSR, and this reduction in data transfers risk to future phases of the project. A PSR-PDS is required to have a risk register, and it should note any known deferred risks.
The preliminary project review involves evaluating the PEAR ESR submittal and reviewing existing materials. Sources of information for the generalist and different specialists may include:
- Transportation Planning Scoping Information Sheet found in Appendix S of the PDPM
- General plans, area-specific plans, Regional Transportation Plans/Sustainable Community Strategy (RTP/SCSs), RTIPs, and earlier planning documents including Transportation Concept Reports (previously Route Concept Reports) and/or Corridor System Management Plans
- PEAR Tool GIS (accessible to Caltrans employees only)
- DEA GIS Library (accessible to Caltrans employees only)
- Aerial photographs and online tools such as Google Earth
- Previous environmental documents written for projects near the proposed project
- District Vulnerability Assessment or other available Sea Level Rise Projection viewer/tool (USGS, Cal Adapt, etc.)
- Local or Regional Climate Action Plan applicable to proposed project area
- U.S. Census data
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Map Service Center
- Envirostar or Geotracker database information
- California Protected Areas Data Portal (CPAD)
- The California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB)
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Biogeographic Information and Observation System (BIOS)
- Species lists from the USFWS and NOAA Fisheries
- The Caltrans Historic Bridge Inventory
- National Register of Historic Places map
- Caltrans Cultural Resources Database (CCRD, accessible only to Caltrans Cultural Resources staff)
If K phase resources allows and if determined beneficial by the PDT, the next step is to review the project site. A site visit is not necessary for projects with minimal impacts or if the season is such that a site visit would not yield adequate information. For these projects, using applicable sources of information from the list above may provide sufficient information.
For site visits, the level of effort will generally fall into one of two categories:
- Windshield survey or equivalent only: This level of effort may be appropriate for larger projects where an on-the-ground survey (or pedestrian survey) would not be appropriate in the K phase.
- Windshield survey or equivalent plus preliminary on-the-ground field reviews or pedestrian surveys: This approach is best for projects in areas with known potentially sensitive resources when additional information about specific resource issues would greatly benefit the PID PDT. Please note that K phase on-the-ground field reviews should not to be done at the level of effort required for the PA&ED phase.
The level of field review required for a specific project will be left to the professional judgment of the generalist and specialist(s) but will also be constrained by the hours assigned to the environmental units to complete their assessments.
Each specialist’s PEAR assessment should concisely document the environmental setting; sources of background information; preliminary review results; assumptions; special risks; environmental effects; potential avoidance, minimization, and/or mitigation measures; additional field work, reports, coordination and other documentation needed during the PA&ED phase; estimated resources and schedule; a cost estimate for standard PSRs and PIRs; and a summary statement for inclusion in the PID. The PEAR or Mini-PEAR should only discuss topics relevant to the project.
- Identify the existing and planned land uses and zoning in the project area.
- Identify any protected lands in the area, such as fee owned lands or those covered by conservation easements (CPAD).
- Identify whether the project and/or alternatives are consistent with state, regional, and local plans, and if the project and alternatives may result in incompatible land uses (e.g., transportation plans/programs such as the California Transportation Plan [CTP], RTP/SCSs, and RTIPs; Regional Growth Plans, proposed or adopted; habitat conservation plans or similar regional conservation plans; general and community plans, both city and county).
- If the project is located within the coastal zone, consider the following:
- Coastal zone designation.
- Any known or potential impacts to and avoidance, minimization, and/or mitigation measures for environmental resources, includes all modes of public access, within the coastal zone.
- Preliminary determination of whether a coastal development permit or other necessary approval from the state’s coastal program will be needed and, if so, from which agency.
- Preliminary identification of key Coastal Act and Local Coastal Program policies applicable to the project area.
- Identify any Wild and Scenic Rivers within the project area.
- Identify any parks and/or recreational facilities within the project area, including equestrian trails, recreational bikeways, and other recreational trails. Is there potential for the project to use a Section 4(f) resource (publicly owned parks, recreational areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, or public and private historical sites)? What level of 4(f) analysis is anticipated as part of the NEPA document during PA&ED?
When identifying scope, schedule, and cost, consider what internal and external coordination will be required and if there are potential measures to avoid, minimize, or mitigate impacts. Make recommendations for subsequent further studies required during the PA&ED phase, if any.
Identify any farmlands, including Williamson Act lands and/or timberlands, in the project area. Are there potential impacts to agricultural land or timberlands associated with the project or alternatives? Make recommendations for subsequent further studies during the PA&ED phase.
For additional guidance, see the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 23, "Farmlands."
Would the project or alternatives likely result in growth-related changes in the project area? Identify any local government “no growth” ordinances or policies. Assess the potential for the project to facilitate planned growth, and assess the potential for unplanned growth. Identify if the project will be located along a new alignment or provide new access. Identify any indirect impacts that could result from the project. Identify whether a formal growth-related, indirect impact analysis will be needed during the PA&ED phase.
For additional guidance, see the SER, "Guidance for Preparers of Growth-related, Indirect Impact Analyses" and the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 22, "Land Use."
Identify community impact issues and determine the level of subsequent socioeconomic/community studies required during PA&ED, as outlined in the SER, Vol. 4, Community Impact Assessment. Identify potential impacts related to economy, social considerations, environmental justice, relocations, and community services.
Discuss the existing social and economic conditions in the area. Discuss number and type of structures potentially affected by right of way acquisition and the number of potential relocations, if any. Are there potential effects to neighborhoods, business districts, and ethnic, disabled, or other minority groups?
Community Character and Cohesion
Identify the general demographic character of the project area and distinct neighborhoods. Identify any evidence that community cohesion exists in the project area. Could the project or alternatives result in changes in neighborhoods, community character or cohesion, or interactions among persons and groups in the community? What studies and field work will be required during PA&ED to determine any impacts? For additional guidance, see the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 24, "Community Impacts."
Could the proposed project or alternatives potentially result in the relocation of housing, commercial, industrial, or non-profit businesses? If so, work with Right of Way to estimate the magnitude of future relocation efforts and the likely availability of replacement property. For additional guidance, see the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 24, "Community Impacts."
Identify whether there are any minority or low-income populations in the project area. Are there any potentially disproportionately high and adverse impacts to these populations as a result of the project or alternatives? For more information, see the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 25, "Environmental Justice."
Identify specific community and public facilities and emergency services including their service areas in the project area, such as police stations, fire stations, hospitals, community centers, schools, places of worship, and libraries. Will the proposed project or alternatives potentially affect them? For additional guidance, see the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 24, "Community Impacts."
Traffic and Transportation/Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities
Senate Bill 743 (2013) amended CEQA to allow the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to develop new guidelines under CEQA establishing alternative metrics to levels of service (LOS) for the analysis of transportation impacts. On December 28th, 2018, the Office of Administrative Law approved the amendments to the CEQA Guidelines including changes related to Senate Bill 743. The Caltrans “Transportation Analysis under CEQA” (TAC) was developed to support Caltrans’ CEQA practitioners in making CEQA significance determinations for transportation impacts of projects on the SHS. This guidance can be found on the Caltrans Senate Bill (SB) 743 Implementation website.
Consistent with the language of Section 15064.3 of the CEQA Guidelines, Caltrans concurs that Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is the most appropriate measure of transportation impacts under CEQA. The determination of significance of a VMT impact will require a supporting induced travel analysis for capacity-increasing transportation projects on the SHS when Caltrans is lead agency or when another entity acts as the lead agency.
It is crucial that the requirements of SB 743 be addressed during the preparation of the PEAR. Deviating from the programmed scope, schedule or budget is an uncertain process, and represents a potential risk to a project’s successful delivery. Projects that do not have an accurate scope may face cost increases and schedule delays. Because of fiscal and schedule constraints, it may become increasingly difficult to achieve feasible and proportional project-level VMT mitigation as a roadway capacity-increasing project proceeds from initial scoping to final design. Therefore, it is important to thoroughly consider a range of feasible project alternatives and/or mitigation which meet the purpose and need of the project, as well as feasible mitigation which can potentially minimize, or avoid altogether, the additional VMT from capacity-increasing projects.
In addition to mitigation, another consideration during the preliminary scoping of a project involves the determination of the appropriate level of environmental document. For new projects, PDTs should consider the likelihood of a potentially significant environmental impact (applying the methods in Section 5 of the TAC) when determining the appropriate level of document. PDTs should also evaluate whether projects initially determined to require a Negative Declaration/Mitigated Negative Declaration (ND/MND) may instead require an EIR if there is a potential for a significant impact, and, if no feasible alternative or mitigation substantially reduces that impact, a Statement of Overriding Considerations may be appropriate.
Assembly Bill 2542 amended California Streets and Highways code to require, effective January 1, 2017, that Caltrans or a regional transportation planning agency demonstrate that reversible lanes were considered when submitting a capacity-increasing project or a major street or highway lane realignment project to the California Transportation Commission for approval (California Streets and Highways Code, Section 100.015). For projects that do not meet the criteria (capacity increasing or a major street or highway lane realignment), this determination can be documented in the Project Initiation Document. Projects that do meet this criteria must be evaluated by District Traffic Operations to determine the feasibility of including reversible lanes in the project scope. If reversible lanes are not feasible, document this in the environmental document in the “Alternatives Considered but Eliminated from Further Discussion” section. If reversible lanes are feasible, evaluate them as a viable alternative in the environmental document. This requirement applies to projects newly approved for programming after January 1, 2017.
Visual and Aesthetics
Identify the anticipated effects (if any) of the project on scenic and visual resources. This documentation should be adequate to determine if a visual impact assessment (VIA) will be needed in the PA&ED phase and the scope of the VIA. Include an overview of the visual environment and the scenic resources in the project area. For example, identify whether the route is a designated scenic highway and, if so, the implications to the project design and schedule. Are there potential changes to visual and scenic resources? Make recommendations for subsequent further studies during the PA&ED phase, such as a VIA or Scenic Resource Evaluation (SRE).
For additional guidance, see the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 27, "Visual & Aesthetics Review."
To help assess the anticipated cost and schedule for the project, the cultural resources section of the PEAR should:
- Briefly describe the project setting and sensitivity for cultural resources and discuss any potential effects to cultural resources, including built environment resources, culturally important resources, and archaeological resources (both prehistoric and historic).
- Identify any studies and reports that are anticipated during the PA&ED phase.
- Explain concurrences needed for the environmental document and other coordination required, such as consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) for compliance with Sections 5024 and 5024.5 of the California Public Resources Code (PRC) and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).
- Identify any anticipated consultation efforts with Native Americans, including any consultation required for tribal cultural resources as defined by PRC Section 21074(a). Include archaeological and Native American monitoring efforts if applicable.
- Note whether the proposed project would be located on or affect tribal lands or whether another federal agency (e.g., Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service [USFS], etc.) is involved. Such circumstances may affect the applicability of the Section 106 Programmatic Agreement. The regular Section 106 process must be followed if the proposed project is located on or affects tribal lands or if another federal agency would be the NEPA federal lead agency. On federal or tribal lands, federal or tribal requirements (e.g., Archaeological Resources Protection Act [ARPA] permits, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act [NAGPRA] Action Plans, or Special Use permits) would also be applicable, depending on the anticipated work involved. These special circumstances can have significant impacts to the project schedule.
- Note any potential for Section 4(f) resources.
Hydrology and Floodplain
Include a description of the hydraulic and floodplain setting (including any special requirements described in an applicable basin plan), identify potential impacts to local hydrology, and identify additional studies and agency coordination that will be needed in the PA&ED phase. If there is the potential for a significant encroachment on a floodplain (23 CFR 650, Subpart A, Sections 650.101 through 650.117), then the PEAR should note that avoidance alternatives may be required. Identify any constraints or recommendations that may affect project design. Provide maps that delineate the base floodplain and other pertinent hydraulic data that the PE should consider during preliminary design.
For additional guidance, see SER, Vol. 1, "Chapter 17, Floodplains." For technical issues, see Highway Design Manual, Chapter 800, Topic 804 "Floodplain Encroachments".
Water Quality and Stormwater Runoff
Evaluating potential water quality issues involves a discussion of the various environmental permits that will be required for the project to protect water quality, including pollution from stormwater runoff, waste discharges to land or surface waters, and hazardous waste sites. This section of the PEAR should include a list of all anticipated waste discharge and dewatering requirements.
Provide a description of the setting and the findings of background research and field work, if applicable. Identify bodies of water, drainages, rivers, and streams that might be affected by the project. Reference basin plans that are in effect and what existing discharge conditions could affect the project design, scheduling, or construction techniques.
Stormwater pollution impacts are avoided or minimized through compliance with the Department’s statewide National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit (see the Stormwater Management Program) and Best Management Practices (BMPs) throughout design, construction, and long-term maintenance of Caltrans facilities (see Project Planning and Design Guide). The report should note if there is a potential for structural BMPs; the project footprint may have to be revised to accommodate these features. Structural BMPs must be coordinated with the PE.
Geology, Soils, Seismic, and Topography
Existing geologic and geotechnical reports and information may be reviewed, and preliminary geotechnical reports may be prepared by the Office of Geotechnical Services (GS) during the "K" phase. In preparing the PEAR, the generalist must coordinate with the PM, PE, and the PDT to identify if geotechnical site characterization may be required in subsequent project development phases. A geology study that assesses regional and site-specific geology, soils, seismic hazards, and topography may be required during the PA&ED phase. See the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 7, "Topography/Geology/Soils/Seismic." Depending on the project, geotechnical site characterization may also be required during the PS&E phase (Design).
Whatever the method used during subsequent geotechnical site characterization, proposed drilling operations, sampling, and/or testing during subsurface explorations, these activities must be reviewed for environmental and regulatory compliance. If geotechnical site characterization requires environmental or special use permits, or environmental compliance under NEPA and/or CEQA, the PEAR should identify the anticipated permits and NEPA/CEQA requirements, along with the resources and schedule necessary for permit approval and environmental compliance. In addition, under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, projects on federal land may require special use permits or similar authorization by the federal land-managing agencies such as the USFS.
Initial screening for, or identification of, potential paleontological resources is best done during PEAR preparation. The level of effort involved is contingent on the type of project and the geologic setting of the project area. A Paleontological Identification Report may be prepared at any time during project development; however, the Paleontological Identification Report is recommended during PEAR preparation to document the potential for presence or non-presence of paleontological resources in the project area. The preparer will detail the geologic and paleontological setting of the project area and the results of database/background/contact review. Identify potential agency coordination, approvals, and permits that are anticipated for the PA&ED phase and subsequent phases, and make recommendations for further studies that may be needed, such as a paleontological evaluation report.
For additional guidance, see the SER Vol.1, Chapter 8, "Paleontology."
Evaluating hazardous waste issues includes a background document review of the project area, an Initial Site Assessment (ISA), and contacts with external agencies and individuals. The ISA/Memo determines if the project is in the minimal-risk category. Examples of minimal-risk projects are street repaving or street patching, which do not involve excavation. If the project exceeds the minimal-risk category, the hazardous waste coordinator will prepare a risk analysis of potential hazardous waste sites within the project limits and schedule, cost, and resource estimates. An ISA should be performed if the project includes the purchase of new right of way, excavation, and/or structure demolition or modification. Under certain circumstances, contaminated sites could be a "fatal flaw" for an alternative or for the project schedule.
Summarize the findings of the ISA and identify those sites that will likely require a Preliminary Site Investigation (PSI). If possible, identify the need for subsurface exploration and evaluations.
If the site is determined to be high risk, a PSI may be required. Conduct the PSI at the earliest possible time that funding and resources allow. The PSI consists of identifying environmental commitment options, general estimates for cleanup of the high-risk site, a general estimate of duration of the cleanup, a resource estimate for the site investigation, and recommendations on the viability of cleanup alternatives. It must also discuss potential issues such as agency coordination and permits, if necessary. Include preliminary constraints and recommendations for project design.
For additional guidance see the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 10, "Hazardous Materials, Hazardous Waste, and Contamination."
Discuss the air quality attainment status of the project area, potential project impacts, potential environmental commitments, and long-term monitoring that may be needed. If a project is programmed in a constrained Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), include the relevant page from the TIP. Identify conformity (regional and project-level), mobile source air toxics (MSATs), particulate matter (PM) 10 and PM 2.5, interagency consultation requirements, and permits that will be needed during the PA&ED phase, as applicable for the project area.
For additional guidance see the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 11, "Air Quality."
Noise and Vibration
Describe the project setting, identify and describe sensitive receptors, and discuss possible impacts and potential abatement measures. Identify anticipated interagency coordination and permits to enter. Make recommendations for subsequent further studies during the PA&ED phase, such as a Noise Study Report.
The PEAR should consider whether, due to the type and scale of the project, an Energy technical report will be required during PA&ED and, if so, what the scope of that report should be.
For NEPA, if the project scope indicates that an EIS will be necessary or the project would otherwise be considered a "major project" for the consumption of energy during project construction or operation, an Energy technical report will likely be required.
For CEQA, all projects expected to require an EIR will require some level of energy analysis. For projects anticipated to need an EIR, read the guidance in the CEQA Guidelines Appendix F on the required scope of an energy study as well as SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 13, "Energy."
Consideration of Climate Change has two required components: the potential of the proposed project to increase or reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and Adaptation—the consideration and planning of future climate impacts on the transportation system. Ensure that both of these items are included for scoping in the PEAR.
GHG Emissions Estimates and Reduction Measures
All projects must consider the potential for operational and construction emissions and measures to reduce these emissions. There are two potential approaches to analyzing operational GHG emissions based on the potential of a project to affect change in petroleum consumption. Congestion-relief and capacity-increasing projects require a quantitative analysis, using CT-EMFAC to estimate operational GHG emissions. Non-capacity-increasing projects use a qualitative (narrative) analysis that describes why an increase in operational emissions is unlikely. ALL projects will require quantification of construction emissions and must include measures to reduce emissions related to construction.
Determination of the project type (capacity increasing or not) usually occurs early in the project development process and is supported by the purpose and need of the project. Understanding the purpose and scope of the proposed project will assist the practitioner in determining the type and level of analysis to complete during the PA&ED phase.
Congestion relief projects or capacity increasing projects: Identify in the PEAR that a quantitative analysis for operational and construction GHG emissions will be required and estimate the necessary resources that will be needed during PA&ED for obtaining traffic information (VMT for existing /baseline, and future build and future no-build conditions) and to complete the emissions modeling.
Non-Capacity increasing projects: Include a statement in the PEAR that these types of projects are not expected to increase operational GHG emissions but will require quantification of construction emissions.
Include a notation that measures to reduce GHG emissions will be necessary and should be accounted for in the cost estimate for all projects.
Sea Level Rise and Adaptation Measures
The PDT must conduct and document a two-part analysis to determine if the project should include Sea Level Rise (SLR) design and/or adaptation measures. The first step is to determine whether the SLR could affect the project. The second step is to balance the potential impacts with the level of risk and potential consequences to the transportation system, and to identify whether the potential impacts warrant the inclusion of adaptation measures in the project.
In addition to the costs and potential environmental impacts of adaptation measures such as enhanced structure design to address SLR, the PDT must consider the potential for increased cost of permit fees and mitigation to implement the enhanced design, and associated schedule impacts.
The PDT should use the three screening criteria developed to assess whether a project will be subject to impacts of SLR:
- Is the project located on the coast or in an area vulnerable to SLR?
- Will the project be affected by the stated SLR?
- Is the design life of the project beyond year 2030?
If the PDT determines that the project requires further analysis of SLR, then the PID must include a more detailed discussion of SLR and adaptation, and whether and to what extent to include adaptation measures. The analysis will require balancing potential impacts with the level of risk and potential consequences.
If the PDT decides to incorporate SLR adaptation measures into the project, then Environmental specialists will have to consider the potential impacts of such measures for the PEAR. Adaptive design measures such as more reinforced bridge structures, larger culverts, or alternative pavements may mean an increase in the environmental impacts of the project. There is also the potential that adapting the project to SLR may involve modifying the hydrology in the project area in ways that could be beneficial to some species while doing harm to others.
Provide a brief description of the setting and sensitive biological resources present. Identify specific studies or focused surveys needed during PA&ED and subsequent phases, noting seasonal restrictions or agency protocols that need to be considered in the project schedule. Include an explanation and estimated timeline of required resource agency coordination (e.g., Section 7). Note anticipated permits, agreements, or approvals (e.g., 401, 404, 1602) and preliminary schedules for permit applications and negotiation. In the preliminary evaluation, consider whether the proposed project may require an Individual 404 permit or if it will qualify for a nationwide permit. Consider listing anticipated technical studies and permits in a bulleted list or table format.
Discuss the project’s potential effects on biological resources and document potential avoidance, minimization, and/or mitigation measures. Identify potential changes to the project scope or costs that could be driven by biological commitments, such as wetland mitigation, compensatory or replacement habitat acquisition, habitat restoration, and fish passage remediation. From the CEQA Checklist (Appendix G), under the biological resources section (Section IV), consider questions a) through f), particularly as the questions might pertain to a project’s cost, scope, and schedule. Give special consideration as to whether or not your project will "interfere substantially with the movement of any native resident or migratory fish or wildlife species or with established native resident or migratory wildlife corridors…" Additionally, consider the opportunity to modify a project's scope to maintain or enhance habitat connectivity or remediate barriers to fish passage and wildlife connectivity (e.g., installing directional fencing; upsizing a culvert; widening a bridge). Identify the potential for a mandatory avoidance alternative for wetland impacts. When preparing a standard PSR, provide associated cost estimates and preliminary schedules for habitat acquisition, design, construction, and monitoring.
For additional guidance, see the SER, Vol. 1, Chapter 14, "Biological Resources" and SER, Vol. 3, Chapter 2, "Natural Environment Study."
Consider cumulative impacts resulting from the project and alternatives during the preparation of the PEAR. However, the level of detail in the PEAR should be far less than is required for the NEPA or CEQA document. The 2017 Regional Transportation Plan Guidelines, published by the CTC, recommends that RTPs address plan-level cumulative impacts resulting from the proposed projects comprising the plan. If the project is listed in an RTP that included a plan-level cumulative impact analysis, that analysis should be reviewed to determine whether the subject project contributes to a cumulative impact.
In the PEAR, the environmental specialists' list of anticipated studies should provide an indication of whether a cumulative impact analysis is needed for their subject matter in the PA&ED phase.
For additional guidance, see Caltrans Guidance for Preparers of Cumulative Impact Analysis.
For the contents of the PEAR and instructions, please see the example PEAR format on the SER Forms and Templates page or utilize the PEAR Tool (for Caltrans staff only).
The completed PEAR is reviewed and approved by the District/Region Environmental Office Chief and the PM, and then transmitted to the PE and other appropriate members of the PDT, such as Right of Way staff. An electronic copy of the PEAR and any associated attachments is uploaded to STEVE and a paper copy is retained in the Environmental file.
There are no statutes or regulations that mandate the qualifications of the person preparing a PEAR. Typically, the generalist coordinates the gathering of information and writes the PEAR and the workplan. Note: Because the PEAR “sets the stage” for the remaining phases of project delivery, it is recommended that an Associate-level planner with at least 6 months experience in project delivery prepare the PEAR.
Caltrans uses various tools to plan and track projects as they progress through the project development process from inception to completion. One of these tools is the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), which allows the PDT and project task managers to develop a workplan to identify resources and timeframes to provide products necessary to deliver the project. The workplan is a resource-loaded schedule. Hours are estimated using the "Bottom Up Tool” for the completed environmental documentation, environmental permits, environmental review of final PS&E, environmental commitments compliance and monitoring before, during, and after construction, and the sub-tasks required to complete these activities.
The latest WBS guide is available in the Workplan Standards Guide. The WBS manual explains why and how to develop project resources and schedule, and it defines the WBS activity codes, which are necessary to estimate resources and schedule for the PEAR.
The generalist estimates the hours necessary to complete Levels 5, 6, 7, and 8, taking into account the specialists' estimates (please note that the "Level" to which a process is resourced may vary by District and project). Several tools are available to develop an estimate, including PERT. The Workplan Standards Guide (pages 9–10) provides an accepted estimating method and additional useful information. Check the applicable District/Region policy and procedures for developing environmental resource estimates.
While the PEAR estimate is preliminary and subject to adjustments as the project progresses, it is important to strive for as much accuracy as possible in estimating resources, cost, and schedule. Underestimating environmental resources impacts project schedules, erodes customer confidence, and contributes to faulty historical data for future estimating efforts. On the other hand, overestimating may prevent other needed projects from being funded.
At the K phase, project milestones may have been identified and tentatively scheduled to reflect on-time project delivery. Conflicts between the estimated schedule for environmental compliance and the project milestones must be clearly identified in the PEAR and resolved with the PM. If substantial environmental issues are identified during the PEAR, early coordination meetings with the PM and Design can help to avoid or minimize environmental impacts.
The duration of specific WBS activities are developed in consultation with the generalist, specialists, the PE, and the PM. These project team members are encouraged to work toward a mutual agreement.
Itemizing the environmental process, with its multiple interrelated steps, is important to accurately estimate the environmental compliance timeline. The PEAR is also a helpful tool for the generalist to explain the environmental process to the PDT and in negotiating schedule and resources with the PM.
Task Management is the assignment of individuals to manage the scope, schedule, and cost of particular deliverables or tasks on a project. Task Managers are the individuals responsible for the quality, timeliness, and cost-effectiveness of particular elements of the project WBS. Task Manager are assigned at all levels of the WBS below the project level. The PEAR will be very valuable to Task Managers because it identifies resources and schedule necessary for environmental compliance as an integral component of project delivery. For more information on Task Management, see the Workplan Standards Guide.
When a local agency proposes a STIP project off the SHS, they must prepare a "PSR Equivalent." A PSR Equivalent consists of the first two pages of the Field Review and a Preliminary Environmental Study (PES). The PES form is located in Exhibit 6A of Chapter 6, of the LAPM. Instructions can be found in Exhibit 6B.
(Last content update: 03/09/2021, JH)