Chapter 7: Public Involvement Process
Federal Public Involvement Requirements
7.2.1 NEPA Requirements
The requirements of NEPA in regard to public involvement are outlined in 40 CFR 1506.6. Those regulations require agencies to:
- Make diligent efforts to involve the public in preparing and implementing their NEPA procedures;
- Provide public notice of NEPA-related hearings, public meetings and the availability of NEPA documents;
- Hold or sponsor public hearings or meetings in accordance with the agency's statutory requirements (see Section 7.2.2 below); and
- Solicit public comment.
7.2.2 FHWA Requirements
As required, FHWA has its own regulations for implementing NEPA. Those for public involvement are outlined in 23 U.S.C. 128 and 23 CFR 771. Section 128 of the U.S. Code requires that, for federal-aid highway projects (and Interstate highways), state transportation departments must certify to the USDOT Secretary that it has held public hearings, or has afforded the opportunity for such hearings, and has considered the economic and social effects of such a project, its impact on the environment, and its consistency with area plans.
Part 771.105 (23 CFR 771) states that it is the policy of the FHWA that "public involvement and a systematic interdisciplinary approach be essential parts of the development process for proposed actions." Part 771.111 outlines the FHWA requirements for public involvement. Each state DOT that participates in the Federal-Aid Highway Program must have public involvement procedures approved by FHWA to carry out a public involvement/public hearing program, and the program must:
- Coordinate public involvement activities and the public hearing with the entire NEPA process;
- Provide early and continuing opportunities during project development for the public to be involved in the identification of impacts;
- Include the holding of one or more public hearings or the opportunity for such hearing at a convenient time and place when a federal-aid project will require significant amounts of right-of-way or substantially changes to the layout or functions of connecting roads or the facility to be improved, has a substantial adverse impact on abutting property, otherwise has a significant social, economic, environmental or other effect, or for which FHWA determines that holding a public hearing is in the public interest;
- Provide reasonable notice to the public of a hearing or opportunity for a hearing and the availability of explanatory information;
- Ensure that the hearing includes an explanation of the project's purpose and need, its consistency with local plans, and its impacts. An explanation of the relocation assistance program and right-of-way acquisition process is also required; and
- Identify the DOT's procedures for receiving both oral and written statements from the public.
7.2.3 Other Related Federal Regulations
A number of other regulations that include public involvement provisions are pertinent to federally-funded TDOT projects. These regulations include, but are not limited, to:
- The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and its successor, the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). Both Acts emphasize the importance of public participation in the transportation planning process;
- Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice requires that procedures be established or expanded to provide meaningful opportunities for public involvement by members of minority and low-income populations during the planning and development of programs, policies and activities;
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 requires that persons with disabilities be accommodated for all public involvement activities, including those relating to transportation; and
- SAFETEA-LU (2005) specifies that the public must be provided opportunities to provide early input into the development of the purpose and need of a project, the identification of alternatives prior to a final decision on purpose and need, and the range of alternatives to be carried forward in the environmental evaluation, respectively.