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Fran Ruger

Curtis E. Alling, AICP

NEPA Categorical Exclusions Updated by USDOT and Caltrans

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Caltrans continue to implement the environmental streamlining mandates in MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act) and previous Executive Orders. Two new Categorical Exclusions (CEs) have been adopted to reduce the environmental review time and effort for specified projects.
In February 2013, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) revised their National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. The revisions added electronic approaches to recommended public involvement methods, modified project types that normally require an Environmental Impact Statement, and updated NEPA CEs, which improve efficiency by applying the least intensive review approach to actions not typically resulting in significant environmental effects. FHWA and FTA have added new classes of CEs to address multi-modal projects, repair of roads damaged in a declared emergency, projects within existing rights-of-way, and projects receiving limited Federal assistance.
On January 13, 2014, FHWA and FTA published a Final Rule in the Federal Register that amends 23 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 771.117 to add two new CEs in response to MAP-21. These new CEs became effective on February 12, 2014. The first new CE is for projects that take place entirely within the existing operational right-of-way, and the second is for projects receiving limited federal funding (less than $5 million in federal funding or projects costing no more than $30 million and using less than 15 percent federal funding). Compliance with all NEPA requirements is still needed, including the limitation that CEs may not be used for projects involving significant environmental impacts; substantial controversy on environmental grounds; significant impacts on properties protected by Section 4(f) or Section 106; or inconsistencies with any federal, state, or local law, requirement, or administrative determination relating to environmental issues.
On February 12, 2014, Caltrans updated its Standard Environmental Reference with a revised CE form, CE Checklist, Air Quality Conformity Findings Checklist, and Air Quality Conformity Analysis Outline to include the two new CEs. All forms submitted to Caltrans should be based on the updated templates.  
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Fran Ruger, Senior Environmental Project Manager, or Curtis E. Alling, AICP, Principal, at Ascent. 

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