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Tennessee Environmental Procedures Manual

Chapter 2: Project Identification and Development

2.5 Early Project Planning Coordination

Early coordination on project alternatives results in an effective project development process. Coordination within the Environmental Division and between other TDOT divisions is necessary to prevent costly project revisions and potential conflicts in design and construction.

TDOT supports early coordination between the Divisions. In an effort to ensure that this coordination is happening effectively and efficiently, an Interdisciplinary Project Planning Team (IPPT) has been established. TDOT also strongly supports interagency coordination with federal, state, and local agencies.

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2.5.1 Interdisciplinary Project Planning Team

Within the Environmental Division, staff from the Natural Resources Office, Social and Cultural Resources Office, and the NEPA Planning Office, are active members of the IPPT. The goals of this team are to:

  • Ensure that stream and wetland impact avoidance and mitigation are given a priority throughout all phases of project planning and design;
  • Identify potential environmental items that need to be addressed in design, ecology, permits, and construction;
  • Communicate environmental commitments for the project, such as stream and wetland mitigation; and
  • Review other project commitments as they relate to environmental concerns, such as storm water detention requirements or roadway cross-sections that may impact more environmental resources than originally identified.

Input from the IPPT is expected during each step of the project planning and development process:

  • Project Commitments. Each commitment (environmental or otherwise) should be reviewed by the IPPT to evaluate how it could impact other aspects of the project. For example, agreeing to a boulevard roadway layout with a wider corridor may significantly impact environmental permits and mitigation if stream segments or wetlands are impacted. Project commitments will be documented and adhered to throughout all phases of the project development process, reviewed by all IPPT members, and incorporated into the Environmental Pre-Construction Meeting undertaken prior to construction. Project commitments may be added at different stages of project development; however, the IPPT should review each commitment and evaluate how it may affect permits, environmental resources, and other commitments.
  • Corridor Evaluation. Each team member should understand the alternatives evaluated for each project and know the rationale for choosing the final option. Each IPPT member should review the NEPA document to fully understand the project goals, limitations, and stakeholders needed.
  • Environmental Boundaries.Since environmental boundaries determine mitigation, permit requirements, design, and right-of-way needs, the team should review environmental boundaries, once they are developed.

IPPT members will be required to sign off on each of these steps in the Program, Project, and Resource Management (PPRM) tracking database. Failure to sign off on these key steps may delay the project development process. Failure to review each step and provide input could cause significant project re-designs at a later date or even non-compliance with environmental regulations.

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2.5.2 Interagency Coordination

Early identification of environmental resources that may be affected by the project is important in order to facilitate efficient project planning and design. In an effort to make coordination with agencies outside of TDOT more efficient, TDOT has initiated the Tennessee Environmental Streamlining Agreement (TESA), an interagency agreement with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), USACE, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), U.S. Forest Service, and other federal and state agencies involved in reviewing and issuing permits for TDOT transportation projects. In addition, TDOT is developing a SMART Delivery Management System (SDMS) to better facilitate the project development process and gather project and environmental data into one Geographic Information System (GIS) based system. TDOT will work with these other agencies for concurrence on the environmental data as a valid base of data for developing project permits. In particular, TDOT is working with TDEC on the stream and wetland determination protocols and plans to develop a stream layer based on these protocols.

In addition, TDEC and the USACE should be consulted during the development of environmental boundaries to make determinations on streams, wet weather conveyances, and wetlands.

Early planning efforts, such as initial coordination, scoping, and environmental screening, are likely to identify issues that should be factored into the development and refinement of the project location alternative(s). These issues should be located on an "environmental constraints" map by the planner or by a consultant. The planner or consultant should ask for assistance from the Environmental Division's Natural Resources Office and Social and Cultural Resources Office staff, as needed. At a minimum, the planner or consultant should prepare a memorandum for transmittal to the project concept designer or the project manager calling these issues to their attention.

The project manager, planner and project designer, and as applicable, the Natural Resources Office staff, Social and Cultural Resources Office staff, and/or consultant should discuss how these issues might impact the project alignment, the technical studies that may have already begun, or will soon begin, and the project schedule. Addressing issues early through minor alignment shifts or other means may save time and avoid problems later. If alignment shifts occur as a result of this step, the planner should make sure that all consultants, Environmental Division staff, and other appropriate TDOT staff are informed of the changes and are provided with a set of the revised project concepts.

The impact studies and public involvement activities may identify major issues that must or should be addressed before an alternative is presented in the draft environmental document.

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2.5.3 Development of Study Area Inventory and Base Mapping

A valuable tool for developing and screening preliminary alternatives is an inventory of the study area using secondary source materials (referred to as a literature search). The inventory includes lists of and information on known socioeconomic, land use, environmental issues (ecological, noise, air quality, hazardous materials) and cultural (historic and archaeological) resources. This information is obtained from existing databases that are available from such departments and agencies as the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 1

Information obtained through the inventory is then placed on base mapping of the project area by Environmental Division planners, team members of the TPR or CSS processes and/or consultants. The result is a "constraints" or "opportunity" map that can assist with the development and/or refinement of preliminary alternatives. This tool allows planners to conduct an environmental screening of the project area prior to conducting detailed field investigations. This map can be a visual aid to show acceptable and unacceptable paths through the study area.

One of the planning tools that can be used to organize and analyze the environmental impacts on natural and human resources in the early phases of project development is Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. This tool allows environmental and engineering constraints to be depicted graphically and analyzed simultaneously. TDOT is in the process of refining its GIS database and better integrating GIS into the project development process.

Base mapping of the project area may be provided to the Environmental Division planners by the Project Planning or Design Divisions, or by a planning or design consultant. The base mapping consists of one or both of the following components: Digital Line Graphs (DLG) or aerial images. DLG files from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are obtained and converted to MicroStation .dgn files. These files depict the boundaries of public lands, contours, hydrology, transportation facilities and structures. Aerial images, in the form of digital orthophoto quads, may also be obtained. The base mapping is prepared for the purpose of field investigations and for use as exhibits for meetings and presentations. The scale of the mapping is usually determined by the Project Planning or Design Divisions.


1 A bibliography of sources for the environmental inventory should be started at this stage, to aid in the preparation of the list of references that will eventually be included in the EA or EIS.

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