Planning and Environmental Linkages
What Is Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL)?
PEL is a study process that is typically used to identify transportation issues, along with environmental concerns, in a large corridor or a specific location. It is generally conducted before any project construction funding is identified, and before specific problems and solutions are known. Before a PEL study is conducted, a scoping process needs to occur to determine whether or not to even do a PEL study. It needs to be determined why the study is being conducted and what question or questions are trying to be addressed.
PEL studies can be used to make planning decisions such as if tolling or other financial measures are necessary, assist in modal choices, create a basic description of the environmental setting, decide on methodologies for analysis, and help identify programmatic level mitigation for potential impacts that are most effectively addressed at a regional or state level.
A PEL study can also be used for planning analyses such as travel demands, regional development and growth, local land use analysis, population and employment analysis, documenting natural and built environmental conditions, and identifying resources of concern and potential cumulative effects. These planning decisions and planning analyses are used to identify future projects, develop the purpose and need for a project, determine logical termini, and/or develop and refine a range of alternatives.
The PEL process can also discover political needs and desires when a corridor crosses multiple jurisdictions, or it can simply be used as a tool to give a context of an area without intensive studies being performed. In addition to identifying corridor issues and potential projects, PEL studies can be used as a project prioritization tool. For example, a PEL study for a corridor could result in the identification of multiple potential projects (i.e., capacity improvements for a shorter length of the corridor, and intersection improvements). Those can then be prioritized for implementation.
PEL studies need to be able to link planning to environmental issues and result in useful information that can be carried forward into the NEPA process. These studies have to address some aspects of NEPA in order to be valid for incorporation into a future NEPA analysis; although, the PEL study should cost less and take less time than a NEPA process. The PEL study should include a comprehensive list of specific project goals, a detailed corridor description that identifies issues and constraints, and stakeholder involvement including public and agency outreach. This should occur before any alternatives are developed. At the conclusion of the PEL study for a highway project, a letter will be provided that acknowledges the completion of the study and that it was undertaken in a manner consistent with the FHWA PEL guidance. If the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is leading the PEL, they should be consulted about their PEL acceptance process.
Below is a flowchart displaying the PEL process and showing the four FHWA concurrence points that are required during the study.
The adoption and use of a PEL study in the NEPA process is subject to a determination by FHWA, with the concurrence of other stakeholder agencies, that several specific conditions have been met. These conditions are listed in Section 1310, Integration of Planning and Environmental Review, part (d) of the current surface transportation legislation (MAP-21). One condition that specifically needs to be considered when determining whether or not to do a PEL is that a PEL study expires after five years. If NEPA does not begin within five years from the conclusion of the PEL study, the information from the study cannot be taken directly into NEPA.