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 has chosen 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 will be 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, including a preliminary purpose and need. 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 Draft EIS. The development of alternatives followed a sequential process as outlined on the alternatives page of this website. In developing the initial set of alternatives, the FRA team considered public comments received during scoping, previous studies of the NEC, data on travel markets in the Northeast, and current plans of the NEC states and railroad operators. This process resulted in the identification of the Tier 1 EIS Alternatives, including three Action Alternatives and a No Action Alternative, as described in the Tier 1 EIS Alternatives Report . The FRA has evaluated these alternatives in the Tier 1 Draft EIS .
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 analyzes existing environmental conditions in the Study Area and the environmental effects of each alternative. This assessment will help the FRA determine which alternative(s) meets the Purpose and Need with the best consequences for the Northeast region. It may also help identify ways of modifying the alternatives to avoid or reduce negative environmental impacts and promote positive impacts.
The FRA analyzed environmental effects on over twenty resource categories. To support the analysis, a geographic information system (GIS) database was created to store and analyze data on environmental characteristics, using data gathered from federal, state, and local sources. The environmental database includes the characteristics of each Tier 1 EIS Alternative, including:
The database allowed the FRA to assess the environmental effects of each alternative at a high level. For most resources, the assessment examines effects to resources within a “swath” at least 2,000 feet in width, centered on the representative route. Some resources are not as easily tied to a physical footprint and are affected instead by service changes proposed by the alternatives; these resources were analyzed in other ways. For example, air quality effects were examined regionally and by county for the entire Study Area, and transportation effects were considered for the entire Study Area with a focus on NEC stations and metropolitan areas. The Tier 1 Draft EIS provides more information on the resource analyses and findings.
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 Study Area is rich in historic and cultural resources that will be considered as the program is developed and implemented.
The environmental review process includes ongoing public involvement and agency coordination. The FRA holds periodic public meetings, workshops, and webinars, and provides opportunities for online engagement. In addition, the FRA meets regularly with federal, state, and regional agencies, including environmental and transportation agencies and metropolitan planning organizations.
The FRA has engaged in early collaboration with federal and state environmental agencies. Informal roundtables with resource and regulatory agencies began in 2012 as part of a Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) pilot project. The pilot was intended to promote communication and help avoid the conflicts and delays that sometimes affect multi-state transportation projects. The FRA continues to meet with these agencies on a regular basis.