The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies—in this case the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)—to prepare Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) for major federal actions that may significantly affect the quality of the human environment. An EIS is a full disclosure document that details the process through which a transportation project was developed, includes consideration of a range of reasonable alternatives, analyzes the potential impacts resulting from the alternatives, and demonstrates compliance with other applicable environmental laws and executive orders to mitigate such impacts. The EIS process is completed as follows:
- Establish the purpose and need for the project
- Develop alternatives within the project corridor
- Conduct detailed evaluation of environmental impacts for the alternatives/ develop the Draft EIS (We are here)
- Hold a public hearing on the Draft EIS
- DRPT presents the preferred alternative to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) for adoption
- Prepare a Final EIS on the recommended preferred alternative
- Record of Decision by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
1. Establish the Purpose and Need (Complete)
The first step in the EIS process is to establish the purpose and need for the project. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), public and agency meetings were held to identify corridor needs and alternatives. These “Scoping” meetings are designed to solicit comments from the public to help shape the course of the study and the development of the EIS.
2. Develop Alternatives Within the Project Corridor (Complete)
During scoping, a wide range of rail and transit solutions or alternatives were presented for public and agency review and comment, including a no-build alternative which means that only already programmed enhancements will be made— nothing new, and a status quo alternative, where no enhancements will be made at all and service will continue exactly as it currently operates. The type, location, and need for ancillary facilities (e.g. railroad switching, signaling and maintenance buildings, etc.) also were considered for each alternative.
Descriptions of alternatives can be found in the Final Alternatives Development Report.
3. Conduct Detailed Evaluation of Environmental Impacts for the Alternatives/Develop the Draft EIS
Once the viable alternatives were identified, the study team prepared an Alternatives Evaluation report. This information will be included as part of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) report when it becomes available. Each alternative was reviewed for the potential effects on the social and natural environment. Public meetings were held to offer the public and agencies the opportunity to review and comment on the alternatives and their potential impacts. The evaluation includes:
- Air Quality
- Capital and Operating Costs
- Historic Properties
- Indirect Impacts
- Park, Recreation and Open Space
- Quality of Wetlands and Streams
- Social and Economic Impacts
- Threatened and Endangered Species
4. Hold Public Hearings on the Draft EIS
Upon completion of the Draft EIS, a series of public hearings will be held throughout the project corridors. These meetings will be announced through various media to include the project website and local newspapers. While the Draft EIS is being circulated and public hearings are being held, there will be a comment period of no less than 45 days from the date of public availability of the document. After the Draft EIS circulation and consideration of comments, DRPT could begin preparing the Final EIS. The Draft EIS is scheduled for completion in early Winter 2009/2010. Currently, there is no funding identified to initiate the Final EIS.
5. DRPT Presents the Preferred Alternative for Adoption by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB)
Based on the findings of the Draft EIS and public input, DRPT will present the Preferred Alternative to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) for adoption. The adopted Preferred Alternative will be carried forward into the Final EIS if funding becomes available to proceed to the next step in the study process.
6. Prepare a Final EIS on the Preferred Alternative
Comments received as part of the Draft EIS would be responded to as part of the Final EIS. The Final EIS would identify the Preferred Alternative and document the potential impacts associated with the Preferred Alternative. Upon completion of the Final EIS, a Notice of Availability would be published in local newspapers identifying where the Final EIS could be reviewed.
7. Record of Decision (ROD) is Issued by the FRA
Pending the findings of the Final EIS and resolution of all outstanding issues, a Record of Decision (ROD) would be given by FRA on the project. The ROD is the final step in the EIS process and may not be issued sooner than 30 days after the approved final EIS is distributed nor 90 days after the Draft EIS is circulated. The ROD would identify the selected alternative, present the basis for the decision, identify all alternatives considered, specify the “environmentally preferable alternative,” and provide information on the adopted means to avoid, minimize and compensate for environmental impacts. Upon signature of the ROD, the NEPA process would be complete.