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Tennessee Environmental Procedures Manual

Chapter 6: Prepare Environmental Documentation

6.1 Requirements for a Categorical Exclusion (CE)

As discussed in Chapter 3, "NEPA Process Options," a Categorical Exclusion (CE) is an action or activity that meets one of the definitions contained in 40 CFR 1508.4 and, based on past experiences with similar actions, does not involve significant environmental impacts. 23 CFR 771.177(c) and (d) define two categories of CEs based on the action's potential for impacts. The level of documentation for a particular CE depends on which category the action falls under. If the likelihood of significant impacts is uncertain even after CE-related studies have been conducted, TDOT should consult with FHWA to determine whether an EA or an EIS should be prepared. If significant impacts are likely to occur, an EIS must be prepared (23 CFR 771.123(a)).

In addition to the two categories of CEs defined in 23 CFR 771.177 (c) and (d), TDOT processes two other types of CEs - Programmatic and Bridge. The requirements of each of these CEs are discussed in the following sections. TDOT has developed a series of electronic templates for use in documenting CEs. Links to these templates are provided in the following sections.


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6.1.1 "C" List CEs

The "C-list" actions, as defined in 23 CFR 771.117 (c), are those actions that meet the criteria for CE in the CEQ regulations (Section 1508.4) and 23 CFR 771.117(a) and normally do not require any further NEPA approvals by FHWA. This list of 20 C-list categories of actions are primarily non-construction actions, such as planning grants for training and research, or limited construction actions, such as pedestrian facilities, utility installations, landscaping and fencing. Experience has shown that because of their limited nature, these types of activities never or almost never cause significant environmental impacts. The 20 actions are listed in Chapter 3, Section 3.5.1 of this manual.

Any necessary technical studies and documentation for these C-list CEs are maintained by TDOT and the documentation is not generally sent to FHWA for approval, except where unusual circumstances exist.

There may be instances in which other environmental laws apply to these types of projects. The FHWA Technical Advisory lists examples where one of the C-list actions could require some level of documentation. These examples include the installation of traffic signals in a historic district, or a proposed noise wall using land protected by Section 4(f). In those specific instances, Section 106 or Section 4(f) would apply and specific documentation may be required. The level of documentation would be discussed and developed in consultation with FHWA.

The electronic template for a C-list CE is currently under revision.


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6.1.2 "D" List CEs

The "D-list" includes those activities that have a higher potential for impact, but the impacts would still be minor in nature, thus allowing the action to meet the criteria for a CE. 23 CFR 771.117(d) lists 12 examples of actions that fall under this group, but the D-list group is not just limited to the 12 examples provided (the 12 examples are listed in Chapter 3, Section 3.5.2 of this manual). Other actions with similar scopes of work may qualify as a D-list CE. These include such actions as resurfacing, installation of highway ramps, bridge rehabilitation, and construction of weigh stations or rest areas.

Some documentation must be provided for an action that falls into the D-list so that the FHWA can determine if the CE classification is appropriate. The level of information is dependent upon the action's potential level of impact, controversy, or inconsistency with other agencies' environmental requirements.

Where adverse environmental impacts are likely to occur as a result of the project, the level of analysis should be sufficient to define the extent of the impact, identify appropriate mitigation measures and address known and foreseeable agency and public concerns.

At a minimum, the D-list CE documentation would include the following:

  • Description of the proposed action, including the immediate surrounding area;
  • Discussion of any specific areas of concern, such as wetlands, relocations or Section 4(f);
  • A list of other federal actions required for the proposal; and
  • Any concurrence letters from the State Historic Preservation Office (archaeological and/or historic architectural resources) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (endangered species).

The documentation should also address unusual circumstances associated with the project, if any. Where there are unusual circumstances, TDOT should undertake sufficient early coordination with agencies, public involvement and environmental studies to determine whether there is the potential for significant impacts.

If it is determined that the project is not likely to have significant impacts, the results of the environmental studies, coordination and public involvement should adequately support that conclusion and should be included in the CE documentation. The CE documentation is transmitted to FHWA for approval. The transmittal includes a cover letter signed by the TDOT Environmental Division. TDOT has developed an electronic template for D-list CEs, which replace the previous letter or report format.

The electronic template for a D-list CE is currently under revision.


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6.1.3 Bridge CEs

TDOT has a specific format to address bridge rehabilitation projects, which would generally fall under the D-List CE requirements (see above).

The electronic template for a Bridge CE is currently under revision.


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6.1.4 Programmatic CEs

Some types of projects are processed programmatically. On February 3, 1997, FHWA and TDOT entered into a "Programmatic Categorical Exclusion Agreement," in which TDOT and FHWA agreed in advance with the classification of certain projects as identified in 23 CFR Part 771.117(d) as CEs.

Programmatic CEs are described in Chapter 3, Section 3.5.3. These Programmatic CEs are completed by documenting that all of the criteria Programmatic Categorical Exclusion Agreement are met. TDOT maintains documentation of the Programmatic CE in its files.

The electronic template for a Programmatic CE is currently under revision.


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6.1.5 CE Approval Process

Environmental studies and documentation for C-list and Programmatic CEs are not submitted to FHWA for approval; they are maintained by TDOT.

CE documentation for D-list and Bridge CE actions is submitted to the FHWA Division office for concurrence following internal reviews of the draft CE documentation by TDOT's Environmental Division staff. FHWA reviews the submitted documentation and requests additional information or clarification as needed. Once the comments are addressed, FHWA indicates its concurrence with the CE determination by signing the CE document and informing TDOT of the concurrence.

Publication or circulation of the final CE is not required. Copies of the approved CE are maintained in the project files in the TDOT Environmental Division.


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