Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Federal Highway Administration Responds to My Inquiry about the No-Action Alternative

Here is the letter I got back from Federal Highway Administration in response to my October 10, 2008 inquiry about what constitutes an appropriate no-action alternative for the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project. I don't believe this response addresses how the rather broad assumptions about what are "predictable actions" that VDOT or local jurisdictions might take in constructing roads or other transportation projects in the vicinity of the interchange project. These assumptions appear to eliminate consideration of inappropriate project segmentation under NEPA. The proposed McIntire Road Extended project as currently proposed doesn't connect to the Route 250 Bypass but ends 775 feet away - and can only connect if the interchange is built. Is it reasonable to consider these projects independent? I think not. Also, when the McIntire Road Extended project was shortened by 775 feet, the project cost was reduced by about $2 Million increasing its financial feasibility - while now the FHWA will cover the cost of construction of the connecting roadway. Is it a predictable action for VDOT to build the proposed McIntire Road Extended if no interchange is constructed? City Council does not approve of any at-grade connection at Route 250, so VDOT would have to construct an interchange if the FHWA doesn't. But, where will the $30 Million plus come from.

This all seems like procedural manipulation of the highest order. I have been suggesting the issues of connectivity, environmental impact assessment, and financial planning be addressed in one effort to identify the best solutions to our transportation challenges. Assuming away the key elements of the problem appears to be inviting disaster. Check out my letter of inquiry of Oct. 10, 2008 and read the response below. And, let me know if you think FHWA is on the right track here.

Virginia Division
P.O. Box 10249
400 N. 8th Street Rm. 750
Richmond, Virginia 23240
(804) 775-3320

U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration

November 4, 2008

Route 250 Bypass/McIntire Road Interchange
Charlottesville, Virginia

Mr. Peter Kleeman
407 Hedge Street
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

Dear Mr. Kleeman:

We received your letter dated October 10, 2008 regarding the Route 250/McIntire Road interchange project. We appreciate your comments and your interest in the project. Public comment is an important component of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process for FHWA actions.

Your letter requests information regarding FHWA's definition of the no-build alternative in light of the subject project and past correspondence from our agency. The no-build alternative for this project is simply that the interchange would not be constructed. FHWA is not proposing any other improvements or short-term minor restoration types of activities to be implemented as part of our action should we select the no-build alternative. However, an underlying assumption of the no-build alternative, consistent with the metropolitan planning process for the region and for purposes of conducting the traffic, air, and noise analyses as well as designing the project, is that other projects with funding commitments will be implemented. In urbanized areas, projects that are programmed by the Metropolitan Planning Organization in the fiscally constrained long range plan for the region as part of the metropolitan planning process are considered by FHWA to be committed projects. It is a reasonable approach to assume that those types of projects will continue to be developed and implemented considering that funding for them has already been identified and, importantly for this project, actions have been taken by the sponsors of those projects to develop them and move them forward. Furthermore, it is prudent for FHWA to consider projects being developed by others to ensure that federal-aid projects are designed appropriately and are compatible with other committed projects.

This approach is consistent with the concepts in the Council on Environmental Quality's (CEQ) guidance on the "no action" alternative included in their Questions and Answers About the NEPA Regulations. The CEQ guidance states, "Where a choice of "no action" by the agency would result in predictable actions by others, this consequence of the "no action" alternative should be included in the analysis." As stated above, it is reasonable to assume that if FHWA selects the no-build alternative, the committed projects in the vicinity of the proposed interchange being developed by others will continue to proceed toward implementation. Accordingly, these predictable actions have been included in the analysis. Please keep in mind that FHWA has no control over committed projects being developed by others for which FHWA has no involvement. Therefore, while we are assuming that these committed projects by others will proceed to implementation should FHWA select the no-build alternative for the interchange project, they are not part of the no-build alternative such that FHWA will assume responsibility for implementing them nor will FHWA's decision represent any sort of approval over those projects.

We hope that this information provides some clarity on the no-build alternative for this project and its role in FHWA's decisionmaking as part of the NEPA process.


Roberto Fonseca-Martinez
Division Administrator

[signature: John Simkins]

By: John Simkins
Senior Environmental Specialist

Ms. Angela Tucker, City of Charlottesville
Mr. Leo Rutledge, VDOT