US Department of Transportation

FHWA PlanWorks: Better Planning, Better Projects

US Department of Transportation

FHWA Planworks: Better Planning, Better Projects

ENV-1: Reach Consensus on Scope of Environmental Review

Environmental Review/NEPA Merged with Permitting


The scoping Key Decision is a crucial first step of the environmental review phase. Consensus is reached on the data, decisions and relationships that need to be considered, acquired or made throughout environmental review. The scope is informed by the adopted long range transportation plan and corridor plans as well as current information being developed from plans in process.

Relationships with planning partners are formed during scoping. PlanWorks primarily addresses the role of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as the agency responsible for issuing permits under the Clean Water Act. However, relationships should be formed with all agencies who will be responsible for issuing permits for the proposed action at the federal and state levels or who have some degree of authority over the NEPA process. For example, if listed species are present in the vicinity of the project, informal consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) should be initiated. Under Section 309 of the Clean Air Act, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviews all actions requiring an environmental impact statement. The relationship with EPA within the NEPA process is also initiated at this Key Decision.

In addition to relationships, scoping is a time to begin identifying the process and methods that will be used for the environmental review.

There is information developed in Long Range Planning and Corridor Planning that informs this step.


The first table describes the purpose and anticipated outcome of a Key Decision. If the decision is federally mandated, the purpose and outcome will relate to the legal intent.

The second table describes roles for key partners with legal decision making authority in the transportation process. The roles indicate the influence a partner can have on a decision, and show each partner where their input is most needed. For a full understanding of roles see the Partner Portal.


To gather all readily available information to inform the development of the scope, approach, and timeframe.
To meet the federal regulations for conducting scoping.


Agreement among planning partners on the overall approach, scope, and anticipated timeframe for the NEPA and permitting process.
Information to create the notice of intent.
Agreements between partners on participation.

Partner Role Type Description
MPO Advisor Provides support as needed for project scoping in the urban area based on regional information from the LRTP and the TIP.
FHWA/FTA Decision Maker Ensures that the environmental review process is inclusive, considers a wide range of options, and meets federal requirements.
State DOT Decision Maker Ensures the project scope is comprehensive and inclusive of all interested parties.
Resource Agency Decision Maker The USACE is a decision maker, reaching consensus on a scope that is built on planning in the LRTP/corridor process, environmental planning, and sufficiently broad to consider all options. Identify and support the use of an ecological planning region, ecological goals and conservation priorities to the extent possible. Agree to work with transportation partners in a process that is streamlined by earlier agreements and actions.

The US EPA is an Advisor to this Key Decision. Pursuant to Section 309 of the Clean Air Act, the USEPA is required to review and comment in writing on all actions requiring an environmental impact statement.
Public Transportation Operator(s) Advisor Provides support as needed for project scoping.

Questions to Consider

Questions are a way to gather input from partners and stakeholders that can be used to inform the decision. Decision makers can discuss the questions provided to ensure a broad array of interests are considered to support a collaborative process. Questions also allow staff to collect stakeholder interests, ensure these are included in the decision, and provide a response based on the decision outcome. Although Public Transportation is not represented by a PlanWorks Application, the information provided may be useful in a collaborative transportation process.

Category Questions to Consider
Long Range Planning
  • What information is available from long range planning to inform the scope of the project?
  • Is this project consistent with the regional vision and goals in the adopted long range plan?
  • What strategies and scenarios were already considered in long range planning that relate to this project?
  • What stakeholders, data, tools, and other resources were identified in long range planning relevant to this project?
  • What funding and schedule was identified in programming for this project?
  • Is the project description from programming sufficiently detailed to get meaningful input but broad enough not to constrain decision making?
  • Have any changes occurred in the financial and revenue assumptions made previously? If so, how do these impact the project scope?
  • What information is available from project prioritization to inform the local support, readiness, cost sharing, and other support for implementation?
Corridor Planning
  • Was the project part of a corridor planning solution? Is information available from corridor planning to inform the project scope?
  • What is the geographic footprint of any relevant corridor planning studies and what information does this provide for scoping?
  • Was there agreement in a corridor planning study about the scope of environmental review?
  • How is this project prioritized with other individual solutions from a corridor planning study? Is there a solution that should be implemented before or after this project?
Environmental Review
  • Has the process been established to meet legal requirements?
  • How should we engage the public in these decisions, and who should be involved?
  • Are there emerging issues that affect this corridor and project?
  • How were the termini identified?
  • Are partners' roles and responsibilities clear?
  • Is there a formal interagency conservation and transportation partnership agreement?
  • Is the identified geographic area sufficient to analyze both direct and indirect effects?
  • Do we have an understanding of any heavily studied or potentially sensitive land use issues in the affected area?
  • What major changes have occurred since the LRTP and/or corridor plan that will impact the scope?
  • Is information available from other plans or studies to inform cumulative impacts?
  • Is there an advance mitigation strategy already in place?
  • Is the project description from previous planning / programming processes broad enough not to constrain the decision making process?
  • What data are necessary and available? Are they sufficient?
  • Are the necessary tools available to analyze this data?
Bicycles and Pedestrians
  • Which bicycle and pedestrian stakeholders should be at the table?
  • How does this project contribute to and build upon the regional bicycle and pedestrian network?
  • What are the bicycle and pedestrian issues in the study area?
  • What bicycle and pedestrian partners and stakeholders should be invited to provide input on the scope?
Capital Improvement
  • Is there any capital improvement input on the scope and implications of the transportation improvement project?
  • Are there any existing capital improvement plans that should inform development of the scope?
  • Are there capital projects already underway or that have been considered or approved that could impact the project area?
Economic Development
  • Is there agreement in the community on the potential for economic impacts?
  • Is there agreement in the region with respect to an underlying economic development philosophy or vision that the corridor plan supports?
  • Is there potential for negative economic impacts?
  • Is there a governing public involvement process to use (MPO areas) or will this need to be developed?
  • Is there freight information from the long-range plan, freight plan, or a corridor study to inform the project?
  • Have any freight advisory committees been consulted to identify the relevant stakeholders?
  • Will freight stakeholders be consulted during project development? If so, how, when, and for what purpose?
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • This Key Decision is not associated with the Application.
Health in Transportation
  • Who are the potential health stakeholders, including those with relevant information and perspectives for assessing impacts to the health needs and priorities of the community affected by the project?
  • Are there any existing plans or health studies that are relevant to defining the scope of health impacts to study for this project?
  • How will health considerations be evaluated throughout the environmental review process, particularly in relationship to vulnerable populations?
  • Is there any information from the long-range plan or corridor planning processes to use, such as stakeholder lists, identification of vulnerable populations, tools and data sources, identified health concerns in the area, or the scope of potential impacts?
  • What are the points in the process that will be most beneficial to have the advice, expertise, and perspective of health and community stakeholders? How will this be communicated to stakeholders?
Human Environment and Communities
  • What local community plans and programs are available as resources?
  • How will the participation of the relevant community groups, champions, and representatives of disadvantaged populations be ensured?
  • Are the needs of low income, disabled, and minority populations adequately represented in the information available? How will this be confirmed?
Land Use
  • Have the appropriate land use stakeholders been identified and invited to participate?
  • What local land use plans and programs are available as resources?
  • Have land use patterns and growth forecasts been considered in the planning region? If so, is there information specific to the project area to consider?
  • Are there any recently identified or potentially sensitive land use issues in the study area?
  • Is there agreement in the general area of the project with respect to land use impacts of the project?
Linking Planning and Operations
  • Are there local operations strategies in place in the project area?
  • Is there a regional concept of operations or operations related plan?
  • Will TSMO strategies be considered during the environmental study?
  • What TSMO partners, data, and resources will inform the environmental study?
Natural Environment and Implementing Eco Logical
  • Is there agreement on the planning region with respect to ecological assessment?
  • Is there an advance mitigation strategy in place?
Performance Measures
  • Is the proposed project intended to support any performance measurement and reporting commitments?
  • Who needs the information at the end of project development and how will it be documented?
Planning and Environment Linkages
  • Is there a PEL study that informs the project scope?
    If so, what information was documented in regional/corridor planning to inform the environmental review process? This includes public involvement, data, analysis, goals, outcomes, and others.
Public Private Partnerships
  • Is a P3 being considered, and/or should it be considered? Is a PDA or MDA in place with a specific private partner? If so, has this entity been identified and included?
  • What documentation is available from long-range planning or corridor planning about previous P3 considerations?
  • What data is available from local economic and financial investment plans and programs that support the development of a P3 project?
  • How will potential private sector developers be involved in the NEPA and permitting processes? How can participation and accountability from the private sector be assured throughout the environmental review process?
Public Transportation
  • What public transportation agencies should be contacted for participation?
  • How does this project contribute to and build upon the regional public transportation network, or existing public transportation plans (short- or long-term)?
  • Is safety a primary issue in the project area?
  • Has information been received about existing safety plans and potential countermeasures that are applicable?
  • How will safety stakeholders and partners be engaged during environmental review?
Stakeholder Collaboration
  • This Key Decision is not associated with the Application.
Transportation Conformity
  • Is there a full understanding of emissions budgets and potential partnerships with respect to air quality?
Visioning and Transportation
  • How can the consensus vision and/or adopted future be supported by this environmental review process?


The following list of data may be needed to support the Key Decision. Practitioners collect this information for decision makers to consider. Although Public Transportation is not represented by a PlanWorks Application, the information provided may be useful in a collaborative transportation process.

Category Data to Consider
Long Range Planning
  • The extent of time that has passed since the LRTP update and what might have changed in that time.
  • Demographic data (Population, employment, special populations)
  • Data related to travel conditions including speed and delay, travel times, traffic counts, auto occupancy
  • Data related to existing transportation assets in the review area
  • Analysis of financing and revenue potential of project and programming project solution
  • Data from the TIP/STIP, including description, prioritization, schedule, and funding
Corridor Planning
  • Corridor plan scope, goals, agreements, and analysis
  • Corridor solution set evaluation, including criteria, methods, and priorities
Environmental Review
  • Project detail information from those projects currently in development or construction that relate to this project
Bicycles and Pedestrians
  • Existing bicycle and pedestrian studies or plans and data
  • Bicycle and pedestrian stakeholders to engage
Capital Improvement
  • Input from capital improvement partners
  • Capital improvement plans or development plans
Economic Development
  • Economic development data, analyses, and stakeholders
  • Economic development philosophy for the surrounding community
  • Potential freight stakeholders
  • Freight transportation data specific to the project
  • Freight-related data from long-range plans, freight plans, and freight stakeholder input
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • This Key Decision is not associated with the Application.
Health in Transportation
  • Contact information for health and community stakeholders, including contacts in this agency, other transportation agencies, public and community health organizations, and other organizations and community advocates for public health, health equity, the interests of vulnerable populations, or the social determinants of health in the project area
  • Information about health in the project area
  • Health-related information used in long-range plans or corridor plans affecting the project area
Human Environment and Communities
  • Relevant data for human environment, including information about historic and cultural resources and environmental justice
  • Stakeholder contacts
  • Public involvement plan
Land Use
  • Land use plans, policies, or major proposed development
  • Data and information on zoning, growth patterns and forecasts, goals, and partnerships
Linking Planning and Operations
  • Potential or existing operational strategies in the area
  • Potential TSMO partners/stakeholders
Natural Environment and Implementing Eco Logical
  • Conservation, restoration, and enhancement priorities
  • Ecological plan and embedded regional ecosystem framework with any supporting information
  • Regional mitigation strategies and agreements
  • Relationships formed between resource agencies, conservation NGOs, and transportation agencies
Performance Measures
  • Performance measurement and reporting requirements, as applicable
Planning and Environment Linkages
  • Documentation from a study or plan conducted as a PEL process
Public Private Partnerships
  • P3-relevant data and analysis capabilities
  • Potential private sector participants
  • Prior analyses of financing and revenue potential of the project
Public Transportation
  • Multimodal data such as public transportation operating plans and schedules
  • Information about planned projects or service changes in the area
  • Relevant safety data, plans, and programs across all modes
  • Potential partnerships and stakeholders
Stakeholder Collaboration
  • This Key Decision is not associated with the Application.
Transportation Conformity
  • Relevant data for air quality, including information about potential partnerships
Visioning and Transportation
  • Data collected or created during a visioning process
  • Relevant information on the adopted future


In - depth case studies of successful practices in collaborative decision making were used to develop the Decision Guide.Links in this table point to a specific paragraph or section of a case study that supports a Key Decision. It is not necessary to read through an entire case study to find the example; however, full versions are available in the Library.

PlanWorks Case Study Examples:
Regional TIP Policy Framework and Vision 2040 for Puget Sound Regional Council env-1

Other Examples: