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Planning and Environment Linkages: Questions & Answers

In This Article:

“What are Planning and Environment Linkages?”

That primary question sets the foundation for regional and local agency planners who want to better understand what PEL is, whether there are PEL-specific requirements, at what stage is PEL considered, and how PEL relates to other transportation planning requirements. The first Rural Transportation PEL Resources post, covers a U.S. Department of Transportation presentation on the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) for rural and small metropolitan audiences. This second post shares basic questions and answers about PEL and related requirements when PEL is used as part of the planning process.

PEL Questions and Answers

The Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Planning, Environment & Realty (HEP) developed an online Questions and Answers section on the FHWA website in 2016. The Q&A explains FHWA policy, current statutes, and regulations.  Even though PEL use is not required, FHWA encourages its use for:

  • creating one cohesive flow of information.
  • avoiding duplicative efforts in planning and NEPA processes.
  • improving relationships, consulting and collaborating early among stakeholders to identify potential impacts.
  • accelerating project delivery.
  • ensuring better environmental outcomes.
  • reaching timely permit decisions. (Source: FHWA)

Key Q&A Takeaways

The following synopsis of key questions and answers from the FHWA website is for information purposes only. Planners should refer to FHWA for complete Title 23 requirements and references.

  • PEL Provisions: Provisions on PEL practices and authorities have existed since 2007. Congress enacted a new authority for PEL in 2012 in MAP-21 and amended it in 2015 through the FAST Act. That authority, 23 U.S.C. 168 (Section 168), provides a process by which lead and cooperating agencies may adopt or incorporate by reference a planning product to use during the environmental review process to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate.

  • Planning Products: Planning products are defined as a decision, analysis, study or other documented information that results from an evaluation or decision-making process carried out by a metropolitan planning organization, State, or transit agency during the statewide or metropolitan planning process. The two types of planning products are planning decisions and planning analyses. 23 U.S.C. 168(a)(3)

  • Planning Products Used During Environmental Review Process: Examples of planning decisions include information on whether tolling, private financial assistance or other special financial measures are necessary to complete a project; a decision on general travel corridor or modal choice; preliminary screening of alternatives and elimination of unreasonable alternatives; a basic description of environmental setting; a decision with respect to methodologies for analyses, and identification of programmatic level mitigation for potential impacts of a project.  Examples of planning analyses include travel demands, regional development and growth, land use, population and employment, and natural and environment decisions related to conditions, resources, environmentally sensitive areas, potential environmental effects, and mitigation needs. For a complete list of planning product types, refer to Question 2 on the FHWA PEL Q&A webpage.

  • PEL Public Involvement: The FHWA Q&A explains Section 168 requirements for public involvement related to planning products, making planning documents available for public review and comment, providing notice of the intention of the relevant agency to adopt or incorporate by reference a planning product, and consideration of comments. Practitioners should refer to 23 U.S.C. 168(d) (4 and 5) for posted requirements.

  • Fiscal Constraint and Inclusion of PEL Studies in Plans and Work Programs: PEL studies, including corridor/feasibility studies, do not need to be individually listed in either the fiscally constrained metropolitan transportation plan or long-range statewide transportation plan and can start at any time. However, the study must be in the Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) or State Planning and Research (SPR) work program when funded with Metropolitan Planning (PL)/SPR funds.  Studies such as PEL can also be funded with Surface Transportation Program Block Grant (STPBG) funds and may be included in the STIP/TIP when funded with STPBG funds or in the UPWP. Refer to 23 CFR § 450.216(g)(3) for requirements.

  • PEL-Related Programmatic Mitigation Plans: States and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) may develop a programmatic mitigation plan as part of statewide and metropolitan transportation planning processes. The programmatic mitigation plan may be on a regional, ecosystem, or statewide scale, and it may either encompass multiple environmental resources within a defined geographic area or focus on a specific resource. Section 169 of Title 23, U.S. Code provides an optional framework, whereby States and MPOs may identify environmental resources early in the planning process.

Download an Adobe PDF of all PEL Questions and Answers. To view PDFs, use a viewer such as Adobe Acrobat.

Additional Resources


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