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Tennessee Environmental Procedures Manual

Chapter 3: NEPA Process Options

3.2. Project Initiation and Determination of Class of Action

Section 6002.139 of SAFETEA-LU requires TDOT to initiate the environmental review process for an EIS by sending a notification letter to the FHWA Tennessee Division Administrator. The notification letter is signed by the TDOT official authorized to sign EISs. TDOT has elected to follow this initiation process and other requirements of SAFETEA-LU Section 6002 for EAs. The notification letter informs FHWA of the type of work, termini, length and general location of the proposed project, together with a statement of any Federal approvals anticipated to be necessary for the proposed project. The timing of the notification is flexible and typically occurs when the project is sufficiently defined and the project sponsor (TDOT) is ready to proceed with the NEPA phase. The notification will normally occur prior to the publication of the Notice of Intent in the Federal Register.

For TDOT projects, the FHWA Tennessee Division will determine the appropriate class of action, which in turn will determine the type of documentation required for a specific project. The determination is based on the FHWA NEPA implementing regulations outlined in 23 CFR 771.115-130 and explained in FHWA's Technical Advisory T6640.8A, Guidance for Preparing and Processing Environmental and Section 4(f) Documents (contained in full in Appendix D [pdf 201 kb]).

TDOT and FHWA meet in September of each year to discuss all anticipated projects that will require NEPA documentation through September of the following year. The purpose of the meeting is to agree upon the level of documentation (if enough information is available), and to negotiate a timeframe for the identified projects. The level of documentation agreed upon is flexible and can be changed if additional information is gathered that warrants a change. Also, during this meeting FHWA determines if a field review is necessary. Two weeks prior to this annual meeting, TDOT will provide to FHWA a list of all new start projects for the following twelve months as well as the following information for each project: 1) preliminary purpose and need, 2) brief description of each project including termini, 3) any readily known impacts, and 4) proposed level of documentation (CE, EA, or EIS).

A memo documenting the decision of the level of documentation for a specific project should be prepared and placed in the project file and is documented as part of the project's Administrative Record.

Figure 3.1 illustrates the series of decision points that are made to determine the NEPA Class of Action.

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