Decisions about the future of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) affect a wide range of stakeholders, from today's rail passengers and the agencies and operators providing services on the NEC to the residents, travelers, businesses, and communities potentially affected by the outcomes of NEC FUTURE. Since the inception of NEC FUTURE, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has been committed to an open and transparent process for involving these stakeholders.
Given the geographic scale and diversity of the Study Area, the large number of organizations and jurisdictions potentially affected, and the array of complex issues being considered, the FRA has implemented a broad, multifaceted agency and public involvement process. The FRA used a consistent approach to agency and public involvement activities throughout the Study Area, with a variety of communication tools-a program website (www.necfuture.com), meeting materials and publications, and informal outreach activities-to inform and engage the public and interested organizations in NEC FUTURE. To date, the FRA has held 35 public meetings throughout the Northeast, beginning with a scoping process in 2012 and continuing with regional workshops, open houses, and public hearings on the Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Tier 1 Draft EIS). The FRA has also reached out to rail passengers with a rail station pop-up tour, station displays, and advertisements in commuter newspapers.
Two unique elements shaped the agency and public involvement process for NEC FUTURE. The first was the FRA's close coordination with the Northeast Corridor Commission (NEC Commission), an organization that was established through federal legislation to promote mutual cooperation and planning for the NEC. The NEC Commission members include representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), the NEC states and Washington, D.C., Amtrak, and non-voting representatives of the freight railroads that operate over the NEC. Connecting states and commuter operators on the NEC also participate as non-voting representatives. Since the NEC Commission will play a primary role in implementing the rail investment plan developed through NEC FUTURE, its involvement in the program has been especially important.
Another unique element of the NEC FUTURE agency involvement process was the early engagement of environmental agencies through a special partnership with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). In January 2012, the CEQ selected NEC FUTURE as one of five projects to participate in its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Pilot Program to identify, evaluate, and disseminate innovative ways to prepare NEPA reviews. The year-long pilot program was designed to promote early collaboration with federal and state environmental agencies for efficient environmental decision-making, and to help identify best practices for environmental collaboration in a complex, multi-state planning process. The pilot program set the stage for ongoing coordination among resource and regulatory agencies throughout the Tier 1 EIS process.
The metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) of the Northeast region play a critical role in transportation analysis and decision-making in their respective metropolitan regions, and as such have served as partners for NEC FUTURE, both on technical and policy levels. There are approximately 49 MPOs in the Study Area. Coordination with MPOs has included both general briefings and technically focused meetings at individual MPOs, webinars to inform and update groups of MPOs on the program, and coordination webinars to which all of the MPOs were invited.
This chapter describes the agency and public involvement process for the Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Tier 1 Draft EIS), public comment period, and public hearings, as well as outreach activities following the Tier 1 Draft EIS comment period up to the release of this Tier 1 Final EIS. Volume 2, Chapter 11, describes the FRA's public involvement and agency consultation activities prior to the release of the Tier 1 Draft EIS in November 2015 and provides additional details on the public and stakeholder outreach for NEC FUTURE.
On November 10, 2015, the FRA released the Tier 1 Draft EIS for public review and comment, along with the Draft Programmatic Agreement under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The FRA established an initial public comment period of over two months, ending on January 30, 2016. In response to requests for additional time to comment on the Tier 1 Draft EIS, the FRA subsequently extended the comment period to February 16, 2016. Public hearings were held during December 2015 and January 2016.
On November 10, 2015, the FRA posted the Tier 1 Draft EIS and appendices on the NEC FUTURE website and issued a press release on their availability. Hard copies of the main body and key appendices were also made available in libraries within the Study Area, as indicated on the website. Table 11-1 provides a list of these libraries.
The FRA provided copies of the Tier 1 Draft EIS to environmental and transportation agencies in each state within the Study Area. As part of compliance with the Section 106 consultation process, the FRA sent the Tier 1 Draft EIS and Draft Programmatic Agreement to signatories of, and consulting parties to, the NEC FUTURE Programmatic Agreement, including tribal consulting parties. To inform potentially affected local jurisdictions of the Tier 1 Draft EIS, the FRA also sent information packets (including a letter from the FRA and an executive summary brochure) to elected officials in each of the 216 local jurisdictions and 42 counties within the Affected Environment of the Action Alternatives' Representative Routes. Appendix FF lists the agencies, tribes, elected officials, and organizations to which the FRA sent information on the Tier 1 Draft EIS. In addition, on November 10, 2015, the FRA sent a mass email notification to 3,361 individuals on the NEC FUTURE email contact list, with a link to the Tier 1 Draft EIS on the program's website. Persons who commented during the scoping period in 2012 were notified about the availability of the Tier 1 Draft EIS by email or by letter.
|DC||Washington, D.C.||District of Columbia||Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library|
|MD||Baltimore||Baltimore City||Enoch Pratt Library|
|Towson||Baltimore County||Towson Branch of Baltimore County Library|
|Bel Air||Harford||Harford County Public Library|
|Upper Marlboro||Prince George's||Prince George's County Memorial Library|
|Elkton||Cecil||Cecil County Public Library|
|Chestertown||Kent||Kent County Public Library|
|Annapolis||Anne Arundel||Anne Arundel County Public Library|
|DE||Wilmington||New Castle||Wilmington Public Library|
|PA||Media||Delaware||Media-Upper Providence Free Library|
|Philadelphia||Philadelphia||Parkway Central Library|
|Doylestown||Bucks||Bucks County Free Library|
|NJ||Trenton||Mercer||Trenton Main Library|
|New Brunswick||Middlesex||New Brunswick Free Public Library|
|Newark||Essex||Newark Public Library|
|Jersey City||Hudson||Main Library|
|NY||Manhattan (NYC)||New York||New York Public Library Science & Industry & Business|
|Brooklyn (NYC)||Kings||Central Library|
|Bronx (NYC)||Bronx||Bronx Library Center|
|Jamaica (NYC)||Queens||Central Library|
|Mineola||Nassau||Mineola Public Library|
|Bohemia||Suffolk||Connetquot Public Library|
|Carmel||Putnam||Kent Public Library|
|New Rochelle||Westchester||New Rochelle Public Library|
|White Plains||Westchester||White Plains Public Library|
|CT||Meriden||New Haven||Meriden Public Library|
|Stamford||Fairfield||The Ferguson Library|
|Waterbury||New Haven||Silas Bronson Library|
|Mansfield||Tolland||Mansfield Public Library|
|Willimantic||Windham||Willimantic Public Library|
|New Haven||New Haven||New Haven Free Public Library|
|Hartford||Hartford||The Downtown Library|
|New London||New London||Public Library of New London|
|RI||Providence||Providence||Providence Public Library|
|Kingston||Washington||Kingston Free Library|
|MA||Boston||Suffolk||Boston Public Library|
|Cambridge||Middlesex||Main Library - Cambridge|
|Taunton||Bristol||Taunton Public Library|
|Dedham||Norfolk||Dedham Public Library|
|Worcester||Worcester||Worcester Public Library|
A Notice of Availability of the Tier 1 Draft EIS appeared in the Federal Register on November 13, 2015. Legal notices of the availability of the Tier 1 Draft EIS and the public hearings appeared in 21 newspapers (Table 11-2). Display advertisements were also placed in the major newspapers closest to each hearing location approximately two weeks prior to each hearing, as well as in the free newspapers distributed to rail commuters in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston, as shown in Table 11-2. The FRA also informed media outlets throughout the region of the Tier 1 Draft EIS and public hearings, and distributed notices via the FRA's social media platforms. Targeted publicity for the public hearings was also directed at rail passengers via wall posters and large hanging banners in selected rail stations. Appendix FF provides copies of these publicity materials.
|State||Newspaper||Legal Notice||Display Advertisement|
|Washington Post Express||n/a||12/10/2015|
|D.C./MD||Afro American Newspapers||11/14/2015||12/12/2015|
|DE||Delaware News Journal||11/13/2015||1/10/2016|
|DE/PA||El Tiempo Hispano||11/13/2015||12/11/2015|
|Metro (Philadelphia edition)||n/a||1/4/2016 and 1/8/2016|
|NY||The New York Times||11/13/2015||12/6/2015|
|Metro (New York edition)||n/a||12/7/2016 and 1/5/2015|
|New Haven Register||11/13/2015||12/3/2016|
|Metro (Boston edition)||n/a||11/30/2015 and 12/7/2015|
The FRA solicited comments on the Tier 1 Draft EIS, which could be submitted in one of four ways: in person at a public hearing; online, via a comment form on the NEC FUTURE website, by email, or by U.S. mail. At the public hearings, there were opportunities for public and private testimony, as well as the option to submit a comment card.
The FRA held 11 public hearings throughout the region during the comment period. Table 11-3 indicates the dates and locations of the hearings. Each hearing ran from 4:00-7:00 p.m., with scheduled presentations at 4:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. and an opportunity to orally comment following each presentation, as well as the option to submit a comment card. The FRA also provided a stenographer for private testimony throughout each hearing. The recorded presentation and public hearing displays are available on the NEC FUTURE website.
|12/9/2015||Boston, MA||Back Bay Events Center - 180 Berkeley Street|
|12/14/2015||New Haven, CT||Gateway Community College - 20 Church Street|
|12/15/2015||New York, NY||CUNY Graduate Center - 365 Fifth Avenue|
|12/16/2015||Washington, D.C.||Hall of States - 444 North Capitol Street, NW|
|12/17/2015||Providence, RI||State Administration Building - One Capitol Hill|
|1/11/2016||Philadelphia, PA||Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority - 1234 Market Street|
|1/12/2016||Mineola, NY||Nassau County Municipal Building - 1550 Franklin Avenue|
|1/13/2016||Hartford, CT||Lyceum - 227 Lawrence Street|
|1/14/2016||Baltimore, MD||University of Baltimore - 21 W. Mount Royal Avenue|
|1/19/2016||Newark, NJ||NJ TRANSIT Board Room - One Penn Plaza East|
|1/20/2016||Wilmington, DE||Delaware Technical Community College - 333 Shipley Street|
The FRA arranged for an American Sign Language interpreter as well as a Spanish-speaking interpreter to be present at each hearing. Each hearing included a staffed exhibit area with information displays on the Tier 1 Draft EIS. A total of 485 participants attended the public hearings.
Volume 2, Chapter 11, describes the methods the FRA used to reach out to low-income, minority, and limited-English proficiency populations within the Study Area prior to the release of the Tier 1 Draft EIS. The FRA followed these same methods for the Tier 1 Draft EIS notification and public hearings. These methods included distributing information on the Tier 1 Draft EIS to organizations representing low-income and minority persons in each state and Washington, D.C. (by email and U.S. mail), and enlisting Environmental Justice (EJ) points of contact at MPOs in the region to help distribute information to their constituencies. A flyer and cover email were provided to the MPO contacts for this purpose.
As part of the outreach to local officials described in Section 11.2.1, the FRA also provided information on the Tier 1 Draft EIS to the chief elected officials in jurisdictions with concentrations of EJ populations. In addition, notices were placed in minority newspapers and minority media outlets were contacted as part of the FRA's media outreach.
All public hearings were held in transit-accessible locations, with Spanish-speaking interpreters on-site. The FRA also engaged a remote real-time language interpretation service to assist in the event other language interpretation was needed. The FRA also translated the executive summary (Highlights brochure) and key pages of the website, including the comment form, into Spanish, the principal language spoken by those persons with limited-English proficiency. Hearing publicity materials, including rail station posters and electronic flyers, referred Spanish-speaking readers to meeting information in Spanish on the program website.
Following the release of the Tier 1 Draft EIS, the FRA continued to coordinate with the NEC Commission, states transportation agencies, railroad operators, environmental resource and regulatory agencies, and MPOs. These activities included providing NEC FUTURE overview briefings, publicizing public hearings, and providing clarifications on questions related to an agency's review of the Tier 1 Draft EIS. All information shared during these meetings was included in data and analysis presented in the Tier 1 Draft EIS.
Table 11-4 lists the meetings held with these stakeholders by stakeholder category.
|1/7/2016||U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Metropolitan Planning Organizations|
|11/10/2015||DVRPC Regional Technical Committee|
|11/10/2015||Transportation Managers Group of the Massachusetts Regional Planning Agencies/MPOs|
|2/2/2016||NVision 2020: Naugatuck Valley Corridor Conference on Infrastructure & Development|
|2/4/2016||DVRPC Central Jersey Forum|
This section provides a summary of the comments received during the Tier 1 Draft EIS public comment period. As noted in Section 11.2.1 , the public comment period opened on November 10, 2015. The FRA established an initial public comment period of over two months, ending on January 30, 2016. However, in response to requests for additional time to comment on the Tier 1 Draft EIS, the FRA subsequently extended the comment period to February 16, 2016.
The FRA received over 3,200 submissions on the Tier 1 Draft EIS from individuals, agencies, and organizations. A majority (77 percent) of these were submitted through the website, while the remainder were submitted by email (15 percent), public hearing testimony (4 percent), U.S. mail (2 percent), comment card (1 percent), or other hard copies (1 percent).
The FRA categorized these submissions by stakeholder type. Private individuals submitted the most (92 percent). Special interest groups submitted 3 percent of the comments, followed by local agencies (2 percent) and elected officials (1 percent). All other categories (federal agencies, state agencies, passenger railroads, freight railroads, tribes, and other) submitted less than 1 percent. The FRA received more than half (58 percent) of the submissions from individuals or organizations in the state of Connecticut (Figure 11-1).
Figure 11-1: Number of Submissions by State of Origin
The FRA analyzed and categorized each submission based on the comment topics included. Many submissions included comments on more than one topic, resulting in a database of over 5,000 total comments. The majority of the comments received addressed one or more of the following key themes:
The comments provided useful insights into the concerns of the traveling public and helped to guide the FRA in developing a Preferred Alternative that responds to the needs of travelers in the Study Area, provides the best opportunities for economic growth, and minimizes effects to built or natural environmental features of particular concern.
The next sections summarize some of the comments received on each of these themes and include comment excerpts-as seen with the text in quotations-that represent the range of comments received on each theme. These excerpts are presented without attribution as examples of the language and sentiments articulated by those submitting comments. The Comment Summary Report (part of Appendix FF, Agency and Public Involvement) provides a more comprehensive summary. Appendix JJ, Comments and Responses, provides a comprehensive compilation of all comments received and the FRA's responses.
The Tier 1 Draft EIS presented three distinct visions for the future role of passenger rail in the Northeast transportation system. The visions represent a range of service levels designed to maintain (Alternative 1), grow (Alternative 2), or transform (Alternative 3) the role of rail in 2040, with corresponding infrastructure investments. The Tier 1 Draft EIS compared each vision, or Action Alternative, with a No Action Alternative. The FRA received numerous comments on the alternative visions. These comments overwhelmingly stressed the importance of achieving a state of good repair, with clear support for going beyond the No Action Alternative. While there was some support for a transformative vision that would create a "world class" rail system, most commenters preferred a less ambitious approach, and many called on the FRA to fix the existing NEC before undertaking any expansion. Commenters also sought to ensure that improved Regional rail service be an integral part of the vision.
A second major theme in the comments on the Tier 1 Draft EIS is the importance of improving mobility through better connections at all levels of the system. This includes better connections on the existing NEC, to connecting corridors, to potential new markets, and to other modes of transportation. Commenters seek more rail options, whether for commuting to work or for Intercity travel. There is also interest in seeing a more integrated, customer-friendly NEC, with features such as a common fare card for greater convenience.
Another topic of concern to many commenters is the importance of passenger rail to the Northeast economy. Comments on this theme addressed the role of rail in retaining the region's existing jobs and workforce, as well as the growth opportunities that significant rail service improvements could create. The importance of continued service on the existing NEC along the Connecticut coastline was also emphasized, as well as the importance of enabling growth in freight rail.
The FRA received a broad range of comments regarding both environmental benefits and potential effects associated with the No Action Alternative and Action Alternatives. Many articulated support for the air quality, transportation and economic development benefits of improved passenger rail services. There were two issues that generated a significant number of comments: 1) a proposed aerial structure through the town of Old Lyme, CT, as part of a proposed rail segment (in Alternative 1) between Old Saybrook, CT, and Kenyon, RI; and 2) a possible routing via Long Island (in Alternative 3). Similarly, commenters raised concern with a potential rail segment (in Alternative 3) through both the Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Pennsylvania. Some supported a central Connecticut routing to connect new markets, while others raised concern with the effect on open space and other natural features. While some supported proposed off-corridor representative routes, commenters asked questions about potential land use changes and effects to open space, forested and agricultural lands. Other environmental resources of concern include wetlands and marshes; wildlife and bird habitat; ecology; waterways, estuaries, and rivers. Several comments raised concerns about potential effects on Environmental Justice (low-income or minority) communities.
Another common theme in the comments is the cost of capital improvements and the feasibility of obtaining funding for any of the visions outlined. Many commenters felt that Alternative 3 was too costly. Others were most concerned about how funding would be secured. Given fiscal constraints, many stakeholders urged that the FRA's primary focus should be on the near-term implementation of a first phase of priority projects.
The FRA also received comments about the methodologies and data used in the various analyses conducted for the Tier 1 Draft EIS. These comments principally addressed the ridership estimates, including underlying assumptions about pricing and demographic data. Comments were also received on the capital cost estimates and methodology.
The FRA also heard from a variety of organizations and individuals with concerns about the NEC FUTURE study process. These comments primarily addressed the need for more public outreach in potentially affected communities, the need for more time to consider the information, and the difficulty of evaluating alternatives at the Tier 1 level of detail.
The FRA reviewed and considered all comments received during the public comment period, and developed responses to each comment. Appendix JJ provides a matrix documenting the comments received and responses, organized by topic (e.g., Alternatives Considered, Environmental Resources, Section 106) and commenter type (e.g., elected offices, federal and state agencies, individuals).
Following the close of the public comment period, the FRA continued to coordinate with agencies, railroads, MPOs, and other stakeholders as work progressed on the identification and analysis of the Preferred Alternative and the preparation of the Tier 1 Final EIS. During this period the FRA met with local government representatives in several potentially affected jurisdictions to discuss questions and concerns raised during the public comment period.
As described in Volume 2, Chapter 11, Sections 1501.5 - 1501.6 of the CEQ's Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (CEQ Regulations) define federal agency roles and responsibilities in the NEPA process. The lead federal agency is the designated federal agency that is responsible for undertaking and ensuring compliance with NEPA. For NEC FUTURE, the FRA is the designated lead federal agency.
Also described in Volume 2, Chapter 11, Section 1508.05 of the CEQ Regulations defines cooperating agencies as those federal agencies, other than the lead agency, that have jurisdiction by law or a special expertise with respect to any environmental impact involved in a proposal (or a reasonable alternative) for legislation or other major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. The FRA invited the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to be a cooperating agency, in light of the FTA's special expertise in passenger rail alternatives and environmental reviews, and in consideration of the many commuter railroads that might seek FTA funding to implement projects subsequent to the NEC FUTURE Tier 1 EIS Record of Decision. The FTA accepted the FRA's invitation to be a cooperating agency, and since that time, the FRA has coordinated with the FTA on a regular basis on the development of alternatives, the Tier 1 Draft EIS, and this Tier 1 Final EIS.
The FRA continued to coordinate regularly with the NEC Commission. This coordination included biweekly conversations with NEC Commission staff, committee presentations, and briefings for the NEC Commissioners on February 26 and June 15, 2016. To inform the FRA's decision-making, preliminary information about the deliberative Preferred Alternative was discussed with these key stakeholders during this timeframe.
The FRA also continued to coordinate with state transportation agencies and railroad operators to clarify the evaluation presented in the Tier 1 Draft EIS. Table 11-5 lists in chronological order the meetings held with these stakeholders. These meetings provided an opportunity for the FRA to share their deliberations regarding a Preferred Alternative with key stakeholders and to then incorporate the feedback received into their decision-making process. Typical of the ideas exchanged included the importance of focusing on the existing state of the NEC and urgent infrastructure needs while also gaining agreement on a longer-term vision.
|8/3/2016||Freight railroads (CSX Corporation, Norfolk Southern Railway, Providence & Worcester RR)|
The FRA continued to coordinate with the 49 MPOs in the Study Area. The MPOs play an important role in the FTA project development process. As a cooperating agency for NEC FUTURE, the FTA is a possible funding source for Tier 2 projects implemented to advance the Selected Alternative. The FRA and the FTA recognize the importance of coordinating with MPOs to ensure consistency with long-range planning documents. A webinar was held on August 2, 2016, to provide an update on the FRA's process to identify the Preferred Alternative and provide feedback on comments the FRA received on the Tier 1 Draft EIS that were relevant to regional planning. That webinar was also an opportunity for the FRA to identify ways to include NEC FUTURE in the MPOs' individual long-range planning processes.
A hallmark of NEC FUTURE has been the extensive and ongoing coordination with federal and state resource and regulatory agencies. Following the close of the comment period on the Tier 1 Draft EIS, the FRA met with these agencies on several occasions, continuing the consultation process described in Volume 2, Chapter 11. These meetings were useful in keeping the FRA up to date on available information and updates to regulatory requirements relevant to the Tier 1 assessments. The dialogue also helped identify the appropriate methodology for subsequent Tier 2 project studies. The meetings facilitated an ongoing collaboration between the FRA and federal and state resource and regulatory agencies and were instrumental in preparing the updated environmental effects assessments for the Preferred Alternative. Table 11-6 lists the meetings held during this period.
|3/7/2016||U.S. Environmental Protection Agency|
|3/15/2016||U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service|
|8/23/2016||Resource and Regulatory Agency webinar|
The NEC FUTURE agency consultation process includes consultation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO), and Government-to-Government consultation with Indian tribes, undertaken as part of the Section 106 review process. Appendix GG describes the Section 106 process, including a listing of the FRA's meetings with the ACHP, SHPOs, and the Indian tribes. Following the Tier 1 Draft EIS and Draft Programmatic Agreement comment period, the FRA met with specific SHPOs-such as with the New Jersey SHPO on February 19, 2016, and the Delaware SHPO on June 13, 2016-to address questions. In addition, the FRA coordinated with all consulting parties to the Programmatic Agreement with a webinar on March 14, 2016.
After reviewing the public comments received on the Tier 1 Draft EIS, the FRA met with several local jurisdictions to discuss questions or concerns raised in their comments and how they might be addressed going forward. These meetings were held with the town of Old Lyme, CT; with local representatives and agencies in the Hartford, CT, and Springfield, MA, area; and with representatives of the city of Philadelphia. Table 11-7 lists the meetings held with potentially affected jurisdictions.
|3/11/2016||Old Lyme, CT Coordination Meeting|
|3/14/2016||Connecticut Coordination Meeting|
|6/2/2016||Hartford/Springfield Area Coordination Meeting|
|6/10/2016||City of Philadelphia Coordination Meeting|
The FRA's decision-making process was informed through these discussions with stakeholders. The discussions were useful to the FRA in identifying workable solutions to potential effects, such as changing the construction type of the Representative Route through the historic district of Old Lyme, CT. Similarly, discussions with agencies in Hartford, CT, and Springfield, MA, provided useful insights into the importance of connectivity between Hartford, Springfield, and points east and south. During these meetings, the FRA shared draft information with the various stakeholders with the understanding that no decisions had been made nor was the information finalized. This collaborative approach is consistent with the FRA's transparency throughout the Tier 1 EIS process.
1 49 U.S.C. 24905
2 The number of MPOs in the Study Area is in flux because of ongoing consolidation amongst some MPOs.