Colorado Public Works Journal, Fall-Winter 2018

58 • Colorado Public Works Journal ACEC ENGINEERING FORWARD Kara Swanson The author is Kara Swanson, AICP, ENV SP, Associate & Environmental Manager at David Evans and Associates, Inc. who are a member of ACEC Local Agency Transportation Projects The Environmental Process Explained Local agency transportation projects may require different levels of environmental clearance depending on the funding source for the project. As a recipient of federal funding, local agencies are obligated to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), typically overseen by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). A similar process is required for state- funded projects administered by CDOT. Local agencies are encouraged to factor in all potential environmental requirements early in project development. This helps to prevent costly delays later in project delivery. What does “environmental clearance” mean to local agencies? Not all local projects are subject to meeting federal environmental requirements. Projects that are locally funded and on a local roadway only need to follow the local environmental process. Although NEPA compliance may not be required, local environmental due diligence means that projects must still comply with federal and state regulations. The box to the right lists environmental resources that may still be subject to analysis regardless of funding source or NEPA requirement. However, when there is state or federal money that is used on any portion of a project, CDOT typically administers the funds and oversees NEPA or a similar process. How much time does it take to get through the environmental process? The schedule for completing the NEPA process and obtaining envi- ronmental permits is one of the biggest questions that local agencies have, and that question does not have a simple answer. The sched- ule is highly dependent on several factors: the type of clearance required, seasonal requirements for field surveys, internal agency reviews, and regulatory agency reviews with designated review periods. Examples which could extend the environmental schedule include: • Clearance determination: the process for completing a “simple” NEPA clearance, typically a categori- cal exclusion, is quicker than completing an Environmental Assess- ment. • Resource impacts: if the project is impacting historic resources in the corridor, the State Historic Preserva- tion Office has a 30-day review period after the local agency and/or CDOT review the submittals. • Permits: once NEPA is complete, local, state, or federal permits may still be needed before construction can begin. What are some strategies to best navigate the environmental process? Depending on the type of project (federal, state, or local) the first step for any local agency prior to determining an advertisement date is to contact the CDOT local agency group or the agency’s own internal environmental staff, if the latter exists. Environmental consultants are also available to provide guidance on process and are able to complete the necessary required studies. For federally or state-funded projects, utilizing CDOT environmental staff through CDOT’s local agency program is the best way to ensure that a local agency is aware of all requirements and schedule implications. Early and constant communication is the cornerstone of navigating what can often be a confusing but necessary process! Federal and State Regulations that Apply Regardless of Funding Source • Historic resources • Wetlands and other waters • Threatened/Endang- ered Species • Migratory Bird Treaty Act • Hazardous materials • Land and Water Conservation Fund properties (Section 6(f)) • Air quality