Environmental Impact Study (EIS) Process
Impact study. No construction can begin until after a federally required Environmental Impact Study. Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), all states must conduct an EIS to determine the purpose and need of any transportation "improvement."
The EIS looks at possible economic, social and environmental effects of proposals and takes place in two phases or “tiers":
Tier 1 will look at the transportation system in the Corridor globally. Tier 1 compares alternative transportation improvement concepts to meet the "purpose and need" for any improvements and determines what transporation modes, if any, should be improved.
Tier 2 will evaluate how to implement the Tier 1 decisions with actual construction plans for where the Tier 1 transportation improvements should be made and how. Tier 2 decisions, for example, decide whose land will be required to build improvements.
We are now near the end of the Tier 1 phase. For the I-81 Corridor project in Virginia, the scoping phase was completed in the summer of 2004 and the Tier 1 Draft EIS "Purpose and Need" statement ( 10MB PDF) was released on January 31, 2005 — by the Virginia Dept. of Transportation (VDOT) planning staff and former STAR Solution's partner Vanasse Hangen & Brustlin contractors. Needless to say, with a former STAR Solutions contractor conducting the Environmental Impact Study, this will NOT be an "unbiased" assessment.
How did a STAR contractor come to enjoy such a privileged position in state transportation decision making? See . Also, learn about the dangerous results of the relatively new which puts private companies at the helm of public transportation projects.
EIS Public hearings. Despite cozy relationships between VDOT and the construction consortium — the EIS must provide public involvement in the course of its investigation. Citizens had an opportunity to make their views known at 6 public hearings along I-81. .
After the public hearings, the Tier 1 EIS is expected to be finalized sometime in the summer of 2006. Comments on errors and shortcomings in the DEIS, brought to light in public comments and hearings, must be addressed in moving to the final EIS. Only a court action or gubernatorial or legislative intervention could change the implementation of the EIS after it has been finalized.
|The primary purpose of an environmental impact statement is to serve as an action-forcing device to insure that the policies and goals defined in the Act are infused into the ongoing programs and actions of the Federal Government. It shall provide full and fair discussion of significant environmental impacts and shall inform decisionmakers and the public of the reasonable alternatives which would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the human environment. [14. 40 CFR 1502.1]|
A full and fair discussion did not take place in this case. The most viable rail alternative, and the only one on a scale to be evaluated as a true alternative to massive highway widening, was rejected. No benefits were weighed from rail's 5-to-1 better energy efficiency or 3-to-1 lower emissions per ton mile of freight hauled. Public benefits from far lower disruption of adjacent businesses and need for land never entered the picture.
|The draft statement must fulfill and satisfy to the fullest extent possible the requirements established for final statements in section 102(2)(C) of the Act. If a draft statement is so inadequate as to preclude meaningful analysis, the agency shall prepare and circulate a revised draft of the appropriate portion. [15. 40 CFR 1502.9(a)]|
RAIL Solution contends that the incident DEIS is woefully inadequate in its treatment of rail alternatives for transportation capacity addition in the I-81 Corridor. The public has been deprived of the better performance, both environmentally and economically, of rail, and has been offered instead an unnecessarily vast highway expansion project. FHWA should direct that VDOT redo the DEIS, this time taking full account of rail and evaluating the rail alternative with the same level of detail as the many highway options presented.
Areas that won't get a Tier 2 study: Another problem is that the Tier 1 DEIS has determined that some parts of the corridor don’t require a closer look in a Tier 2 study. VDOT and STAR plan to begin construction on the section between Staunton and Lexington as soon as the Tier 1 EIS is approved.
That could mean as early as this summer.
Residents should not wait to voice their opinions!
Learn more about the EIS Process
Federal and state highway website links:
VDOT - I-81 Tier 1 Draft EIS documents - From here you can download various sections of the Tier 1 I-81 DEIS
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) - this is FHWA's site that relates NEPA to highway planning; includes FHWA's own rules and guidelines for implementation
FHWA Regulations for NEPA: Application to Highway Projects
Maryland Dept. of Transportation - Section 4(f) - although this is sponsored by Maryland DOT, it has very helpful information on section 4(f) and NEPA
NEPA net - Council on Environmental Quality - the group concerned with NEPA implementation
NEPA Task Force - Council on Environmental Quality - the group concerned with NEPA implementation
NEPA Project Development