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I-90 Allston Multimodal Project - NEPA Review Frequently Asked Questions

Questions and answers on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Review

Table of Contents

What is the purpose of this project? Why is it being proposed?

The elevated portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike (also referred to as "Interstate 90" or "I-90") at exits 18, 19, and 20 in Allston (the "I-90 Viaduct") is reaching the end of its useful life and needs to be repaired or replaced. The project also presents an opportunity to address existing needs in areas surrounding the viaduct related to the roadway structure, safety, mobility, and multimodal access within the Project area. The purpose of the project is to address these issues. Further details are provided in the Purpose and Need, which is included in the Scoping Report, as part of the process required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

What is NEPA? - Requirements, project applications & how it is related to the MEPA process.

NEPA refers to the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to conduct an environmental review of federal actions and approvals for a project, analyzing and disclosing anticipated environmental impacts. NEPA includes a specific process for environmental review and must be completed before any federal permits can be issued. NEPA applies to this project because it will involve Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approval and potential federal funding. Given the scale and complexity of this project, FHWA has determined that it will be reviewed through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The NEPA process will occur separate from but in coordination with the state-level Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) process, with consistent information and decision-making. The MEPA process has already progressed through an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) and Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).

Who is in charge of the project?

Under the NEPA process, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is the "project sponsor," while the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is the "lead federal agency." Those roles mean that FHWA is responsible for managing the environmental review process and preparing the NEPA documents (e.g., EIS, decision document), while MassDOT will plan and design the project, facilitate the environmental review process, and facilitate opportunities for public and agency involvement.

How is the public involved in the NEPA process?

In the NEPA process, specific designated milestones with opportunities for public comment include the Scoping Report and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). There are also public involvement opportunities for certain state and federal permits, licenses, and approvals. Further details are provided in the Public Involvement Plan, which is an appendix of the Scoping Report. Instructions for providing comment are included in the Scoping Report. There is also a project Task Force which includes local stakeholders. During the concurrent MEPA process, the public will also have opportunities to comment on the project.

Comments are due December 12, 2019.

Submit written comments on the Scoping Report via email to: I-90Allston@dot.state.ma.us

Written comments on the Scoping Report can also be submitted via hard copy to:

Jeffrey McEwen
Division Administrator
Federal Highway Administration
55 Broadway, 10th Floor                          
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142

Or

Michael O’Dowd
Acting Director of Bridge Project Management
Massachusetts Department of Transportation
10 Park Plaza, Suite 6340
Boston, Massachusetts 02116

What other agencies are involved and what roles do they have?

Different state and federal agencies have varied roles in the project on specific topics of relevance, including rail, transit, navigation, parkland, cultural resources, and natural resources. As part of the EIS process, Cooperating Agencies will provide input and concurrence on various aspects of the project, including the Purpose and Need and the Preferred Alternative (please see below). Agency roles are described in further detail in the Agency Coordination Plan, which is an appendix of the Scoping Report, and roles and progress can be tracked on the Federal Permiting Dashboard

What is the Purpose and Need statement and Preferred Alternative under NEPA and who decides?

The Purpose and Need sets the framework and justification for the project and is part of the Scoping Report. Sometimes more aptly referred to as the "Need and Purpose" it defines the deficiencies (need) that the project sponsor is trying to address and describes what the agency should consider to address these deficiencies (purpose). The Purpose and Need is used to develop and evaluate a range of reasonable alternatives for the project and also assists with the identification and eventual selection of a Preferred Alternative. While the project sponsor (MassDOT) and lead federal agency (FHWA) develop the Purpose and Need and select the Preferred Alternative, the public is invited to provide input (please see above). Other federal and state agencies also provide input on the Purpose and Need and Preferred Alternative.

What are the project boundaries and how were they determined?

The project area includes areas adjacent to I-90 and the ramps associated with exits 18, 19 and 20 in Allston, including the former Beacon Park Yards rail yard and the area between Ashford Street to the south, the Commonwealth Avenue bridge and the Charles River to the east, Cambridge Street to the north, and Cambridge Street and the Franklin Street pedestrian bridge over I-90 to the west. The project boundaries coincide with areas that will be included or altered as part of the reasonable range of alternatives. While the project is intended to resolve the transportation and multimodal access needs of the area, it is also part of a regional transportation system. The Purpose and Need statement defines and scope of transportation issues to be addressed by the project. Additional details are presented in the Scoping Report.

What is Scoping under NEPA?

The scoping process determines the range of issues, analyses, and project alternatives to be covered in the environmental review. During scoping, NEPA requires opportunities for the public to provide input on these topics. A Scoping Report has been released, and a Scoping Summary Report, incorporating responses to substantive public comments, will be completed in spring 2020.

How long will this project take?

A recent (2017) White House Executive Order (#13807) and associated 2018 Memorandum of Understanding, together known as “One Federal Decision,” established two-year timeframes for completion of NEPA Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) like the one to be produced for this project. Construction is anticipated to last for 8-10 years because of the highly-developed project area and the intent to keep open as many transportation features for as much of the construction period as possible.

When will designs be completed?

The NEPA process includes conceptual designs only, and the Final Environmental Impact Statement will include preliminary designs for the Preferred Alternative. At this time, MassDOT and FHWA have not developed detailed designs for features like the parkland, riverbank, or West Station. After the selection of the Preferred Alternative in NEPA and the issuance of the Record of Decision (ROD) and permits, which conclude the NEPA process, those designs would be advanced, with public input opportunities, such as the preliminary design public hearing.

Will any accommodations be provided during construction and afterwards to offset impacts?

Yes. Efforts to compensate for adverse impacts are referred to as "mitigation" in NEPA. NEPA and other regulations require agencies to prioritize avoiding impacts, and if avoidance is not possible, to minimize impacts. If impacts cannot be avoided or minimized, then agencies propose to compensate or “mitigate” for those impacts. At this point in project development, MassDOT and FHWA are still seeking to avoid or minimize impacts but recognize that mitigation will likely be needed for some unavoidable impacts, both during construction and afterwards. MassDOT and FHWA will develop mitigation through the public processes described above, and mitigation will be discussed in the DEIS and subsequent MEPA documents.

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