The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to consider the environmental consequences of proposed projects as part of their decision-making. For NEC FUTURE, the FRA chose a “tiered” approach to satisfy NEPA requirements:
In the Tier 1 EIS, alternatives are defined at a conceptual level and represent a range of possible rail improvements. Alternatives include information about the locations to be served and the types of rail service to be provided, without specifying a precise alignment. Similarly, the analysis of environmental effects of each alternative is conducted at a high level, based on readily available data.
The environmental review for NEC FUTURE began with a scoping process that enabled agencies, stakeholders and the public to learn about and contribute to shaping the program. During a four-month period in 2012, the FRA invited the public to comment on the purpose and need for the rail investment program, the Study Area, the range of alternatives to be considered, and the types of environmental consequences to be evaluated in the Tier 1 EIS. In August 2012, the FRA held agency and public scoping meetings in each of the NEC’s eight states and the District of Columbia. The FRA received nearly 2,500 different comments from approximately 800 individuals and organizations. All comments were reviewed and considered in the development of alternatives. Information on the scoping process and a summary of comments received can be found in the Scoping Summary on this website.
The next step of the NEPA process was the development of alternatives for evaluation in the Tier 1 EIS. This sequential process began with approximately 100 Initial Alternatives informed by the scoping process, which were then organized into 15 Preliminary Alternatives. After evaluating the Preliminary Alternatives and further engaging with stakeholders and the public, the FRA developed three Action Alternatives for evaluation in the Tier 1 Draft EIS, as well as a No Action Alternative that served as a baseline for comparison. A 3-month public comment period and 11 public hearings followed the publication of the Tier 1 Draft EIS. Next, the FRA identified a Preferred Alternative based on the evaluation and findings presented in the Tier 1 Draft EIS, public and stakeholder comments, and U.S. DOT and FRA policy objectives. The Preferred Alternative was described and evaluated in the Tier 1 Final EIS, and the FRA received and considered public and stakeholder feedback on the Preferred Alternative. In July 2017, the FRA issued a Record of Decision documenting the Selected Alternative. More information on each step of this process is available on the Alternatives page.
Decisions about future investment in the NEC could have a variety of consequences for the natural and human environment. The construction of new rail infrastructure, the rail services to be provided, and the operation of those services could all affect the environment in different ways.
The Tier 1 Draft EIS presents the existing environmental conditions in the Study Area and the environmental effects of each alternative. This assessment helped the FRA identify a Preferred Alternative for analysis in the Tier 1 Final EIS. The Tier 1 Final EIS presents the environmental effects of the Preferred Alternative on over twenty resource categories. The Record of Decision (ROD) provides a summary of the environmental effects of the Selected Alternative, based on the analysis in the Tier 1 Final EIS. The ROD also identifies factors to be considered in analyzing each resource during future Tier 2 project studies.
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires the FRA to consider the potential effect of the NEC FUTURE alternatives on historic properties, including Native American tribal cultural resources. The FRA conducted the Section 106 review in consultation with each State Historic Preservation Office along the NEC, as well as with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The FRA also coordinated directly with federally-recognized Indian tribal governments within the Study Area. Through this process, a Programmatic Agreement has been developed that provides a framework for compliance with Section 106 in future Tier 2 actions that could affect historic properties along the NEC.
The environmental review process included extensive public involvement and agency coordination. The FRA held 37 public meetings, hearings and workshops during the environmental review process, as well as hosting webinars and providing opportunities for online engagement. The Federal Transit Administration has worked closely with FRA on the Tier 1 EIS development as a cooperating agency in the NEPA process. In addition, the FRA met regularly with federal, state, and regional agencies, including environmental and transportation agencies and metropolitan planning organizations.
The FRA has collaborated with federal and state environmental agencies since the inception of NEC FUTURE. Informal roundtables with resource and regulatory agencies began in 2012 through a partnership with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). NEC FUTURE was one of five pilot projects in the CEQ's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Pilot Program, as described on the CEQ website.A notable achievement of the CEQ Pilot was the development of a Statement of Principles that spells out an approach and protocols for future collaboration with federal agencies. The following federal agencies have concurred with the Statement of Principles: