TDOT's Community Relations Division has primary responsibility for coordinating the Department's outreach program, and ensuring that the public outreach process used in a specific project meets the Department's standards. The Division consists of community relations staff in the headquarters office as well as Community Relations Officers in each of TDOT's four regional offices. The Regional Community Relations Officer works closely with the headquarters staff to coordinate the public involvement process used for each project in their respective region.
TDOT's 2007 Public Involvement Plan update outlines public involvement considerations and procedures to be used by TDOT staff on all federal aid projects. A similar process will be followed for all state-funded projects. The Plan, which meets the federal requirements, identifies TDOT's public involvement philosophy and objectives, describes the five levels of public involvement activities, and identifies a series of performance measures that are used to evaluate the public involvement activities of projects under each level. The appendices of the Plan provide useful information on public notice requirements and procedures, meeting and hearing definitions, checklists for meetings and hearings, media strategies and procedures, as well as sample documents, a list of environmental justice resources, and a example public comment disposition form.
TDOT's public involvement process has five levels of public involvement, which are used to establish minimum levels of public involvement for projects. The discussion in the Plan describes the type of projects that fit into each classification and the public involvement activities that are required (at a minimum) for that level of project. The Plan also offers suggestions for enhanced public involvement activities and describes the timing for the public involvement activities outlined in the Plan.
The level of public involvement varies by project type and public interest or controversy. The five levels of public involvement activity as defined in the Plan are:
TDOT staff will determine the level of public involvement needed for a project on a case-by-case basis. In keeping with the Department's commitment to CSS, an appropriate level of public involvement will be implemented for all projects. The CSS approach implies the development of an appropriately scaled public involvement plan for all projects and TDOT's 2007 Public Involvement Plan suggests that a public involvement plan/strategy be developed by an interdisciplinary team for projects that have the potential for adverse socioeconomic or environmental impacts. An interdisciplinary team would include representatives from TDOT divisions, as appropriate (e.g., Planning, Environmental, Design, Right-of-Way, Construction, Maintenance, Community Relations, Title VI, and Project Management), as well as FHWA. For large and/or complex/controversial projects, the public involvement plan should also be developed with input from the public and other affected stakeholders.
Environmental Division staff and consultants should obtain a copy of the plan, either on-line at http://www.tn.gov/tdot/documents/pip.pdf, or from the Community Relations Division, and familiarize themselves with the process.
As discussed in Chapter 4, early coordination with the public, as well as with federal, state, and local agencies, is an essential ingredient in the project development process. Early coordination helps in determining the appropriate level of documentation, developing the project's purpose and need discussion, determining alternatives, identifying issues of concern, the scope of the environmental resources that would be affected by the project, permit requirements, possible mitigation measures, and opportunities for environmental enhancements. SAFETEA-LU (Section 6002.139) requires that as early as possible in the environmental review process, the public be provided with opportunities for involvement in defining the purpose and need and the range of alternatives to be considered, before final decisions on purpose and need and alternatives are made. The level of public involvement is project specific and dependent on a number of variables, including class of action; complexity of the project; and public interest or concern about the project.
FHWA defines the public broadly as "all individuals or groups who are potentially affected by transportation decisions." This includes anyone who resides in, has interest in, or does business in a given area which may be affected by transportation decisions. ISTEA specifically identified various segments of the public and the transportation industry that must be given the opportunity to participate in planning for transportation projects. Public and private transportation providers (e.g., school bus, special services vans, or bus), as well as persons traditionally underserved by existing transportation systems, should be encouraged to participate in the public involvement process.
The Community Relations Division staff and, as applicable, an interdisciplinary team, will review the project scope and preliminarily assess project impacts on the community and property owners and make recommendations regarding who comprises the "public" on a specific project (e.g., property owners, special interest groups, businesses, schools or road users). Mapping data using GIS can assist in determining if possible language barriers or environmental justice issues may need to be addressed. The Project Manager or his/her designee should consult with the local government to seek advice on community issues and concerns, as well as suggestions of parties known to have an interest in the project, that may otherwise have been overlooked by TDOT. The Community Relations Division, Project Manager or lead Environmental planner (or consultant) should maintain a list of the names and mailing addresses, as well as email addresses, of the interested public, which can be updated as needed throughout the project. The responsibility for maintaining this list should be clearly identified at the beginning of the project.
Public involvement occurs prior to the commencement of NEPA, such as during the development of long range transportation plans or during the TPR phase. TDOT's Public Involvement Plan outlines the process for public involvement during these early stages. The Environmental Division is invited and division staff often attend TPR field reviews, particularly for larger projects.
Public involvement should begin early and continue throughout NEPA and the project development process.
When a commitment is made by TDOT to proceed with a project into the NEPA process, often one of the first actions taken is called "initial (or early) coordination." This task is discussed in Chapter 4, Early Coordination. The Environmental Division maintains a list of local, state and federal offices and agencies to which the initial coordination package must be sent. Other entities, such as special interest groups are also included on the Division's initial coordination list. Local contacts may identify other parties that should be sent an initial coordination package. The cover letter of the initial coordination package itself may also request that the recipient provide names of other parties that may have an interest in the project. The package will include a description of the project and potential issues, as well as a project map. The Initial Coordination process is not discussed specifically in TDOT's Public Involvement Plan.
Under TDOT's 2007 Public Involvement Plan, the development of a project-specific public involvement plan is required for projects falling into Level Three (EAs) and Level Four (EISs). As mentioned earlier, the CSS approach implies the development of an appropriately scaled public involvement plan for all projects. The minimum requirements for public involvement plans for Level Three and Level Four projects are specified in the 2007 Public Involvement Plan.
SAFETEA-LU requires the establishment of a plan for coordinating public and agency participation and comment during the environmental review process. The term, "coordination plan, " replaces the term "public involvement plan" for EISs for which a Notice of Intent was issued after August 10, 2005. The coordination plan is developed early in the environmental review process, and identifies opportunities for input from the public and participating agencies. See Section 4.1.4, Coordination Plan, for more details on the purpose and components of the required coordination plan.
During the NEPA phase, meetings or hearings or both are conducted. The timing, number, and need for NEPA meetings and hearings will be decided by the Project Manager, Community Relations Division staff, and/or multidisciplinary team. Environmental Division staff will participate in the multi-disciplinary team during development of a public involvement strategy or plan for a project that will be developed pursuant to NEPA.
How do public meetings and hearings differ? The major difference is that hearings must be held to fulfill regulatory requirements, while public meetings are optional events that can be tailored to specific agency and community needs.
Public Meetings are held to present information to the public and obtain public input. Public meetings can be held at any time during the process, they are used to disseminate information, provide a setting for public discussion, and get feedback from the community. They can be tailored to specific community needs and can be either formal or informal (e.g., a meeting could be held with a small group of neighbors or a special interest group, or a project could warrant a community-wide meeting).
Public Hearings are held to meet federal requirements, which include the holding of one or more public hearings or the opportunity for such hearing at a convenient time and place when:
23 CFR 771.111 requires that public hearings be held for the DEIS document once it has been circulated for public comment. An opportunity to request a public hearing must be provided for an EA once the document has been circulated. The purpose of the hearing is to gather community comments and positions from all interested parties for inclusion in the public record. Public input, along with the findings of the NEPA document, is then used by TDOT to select a project alternative, whether it be a build or no-build alternative. Public notices must be placed in a general circulation newspaper citing the time, date, and location of the hearing. TDOT must submit a transcript of each public hearing and a certification that a required hearing was held or evidence that a hearing opportunity was offered. The transcript will include transcription of all oral comments received at the hearing and all written comments received either at the hearing or within the official comment period.
Meetings and hearings have these basic features:
Notices for NEPA related public meetings and hearings will be in the form of either a legal notice in the classified section of project-area newspapers or as a newspaper display advertisement. The Environmental Division planner, Project Manager, or his/her designee will prepare the materials needed for the notice:
The draft notice and map must be submitted to the Regional Community Relations Officer, with a copy to the Regional Survey and Design and Right-of-Way offices. A cover memo should request the review and approval of the notice and that it be forwarded to the Legal Office, which will arrange for placing the advertisement in local papers.
Other optional means of notifying the public of an impending meeting include:
For an EA for which TDOT is not planning to hold a public hearing, a notice of opportunity must be published in local newspapers and posted on TDOT's website in order to offer the public the opportunity to request a hearing. If no requests are received, TDOT will place a notice in a local newspaper advising the public that although no public hearing will be held, the NEPA document is available locally for review and comment.
It is important to identify persons or groups in the project area that likely have an interest in the project and that may miss a meeting notice due to language barriers or other reasons. Should such populations be identified, notification materials should be developed in a second language, and/or other types of outreach to such populations should be undertaken (e.g., posting notices at community centers or local businesses, and arranging for announcements to be made at churches, etc.).
The Environmental Division planner will prepare a draft meeting handout for review by the Project Manager, the Community Relations Officer, and/or the multidisciplinary team. The handout will contain a project summary, list of potential impacts, project map and description of TDOT's relocation procedures. Once approved, the planner will finalize the summary and make the appropriate number of copies needed for the meeting. A sample handout is in Appendix F [pdf 627 kb].