The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 requires projects involving a federal action to be evaluated for potential social and environmental impacts. For this project, an Environmental Assessment (EA) and Environmental Assessment Addendum (EA Addendum) were compiled using the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Project Development Process.
The process included:
- Defining the project’s purpose and need;
- Coordination with federal, state and local agencies and the public to identify key resources in the study area;
- Identifying and evaluating project alternatives;
- Assessing the potential environmental effects of feasible project alternatives; and
- Thoroughly documenting the environmental review process and providing the public opportunities to provide input on the EA and EA Addendum.
- The Commission also conducted an evaluation to document potential impacts and mitigation measures for impacts on historic resources and public parklands protected under Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act.
The environmental documentation process was initiated in early 2003 under a Memorandum of Agreement among the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the New Jersey Department of Transportation. Under the agreement, the agencies committed to advancing the project’s environmental documentation and preliminary engineering under a single project with the objective of achieving acceptable traffic flow conditions in both the short-term and long-term time frames.
Environmental considerations evaluated during this process included (but were not limited to) water quality and aquatic life, cumulative and secondary impacts, air quality, noise abatement, historic resources, archaeological artifacts, and construction impacts on host communities. The process of evaluation, analysis, report compilation, public hearings, and peer review took nine years to complete. The Commission worked with a consultant team of engineers, planners, environmental scientists, and other specialists to carry out the process and compile the resulting body of documentation. More than 1,700 pages of documentation were produced during the NEPA compliance process.
This comprehensive process of research and review reached a successful completion with the Federal Highway Administration’s issuance of a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) in June 2012, the paramount regulatory authorization needed for advancing the project to final design and eventual construction.
Environmental Assessment/Draft Section 4(f) Evaluation (EA)
The 561-page Environmental Assessment (EA) was released for public review and comment on December 9, 2009. The EA includes environmental studies, preliminary engineering analyses, and explanations of various alternatives that were considered to reduce traffic congestion and improve safety on the Scudder Falls Bridge, its approaches, and adjoining interchanges. Prior to issuance, the document underwent extensive review by federal and state environmental resource and regulatory agencies with regard to project findings, assessments and mitigation for a number of environmental considerations within the project limits. This included historical and archaeological resources, threatened and endangered species, and wetlands, among other considerations. The public review and comment period for this document concluded on February 4, 2010. The document consists of three volumes:
is the Environmental Assessment (EA) and includes:
- Purpose of and Need for Action (Chapter I)
- Affected Environment (Chapter II)
- Alternatives Considered (Chapter III)
- Environmental Consequences (Chapter IV)
- Comments and Coordination (Chapter V),
- Lists of References, Distribution List, and List of Preparers
includes Attachments A through C of the Environmental Assessment:
- Agency Correspondence (Attachment A), including correspondence related to Section 7 of the U.S. Endangered Species Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act
- Permitting Checklist/Consistency Determinations (Attachment B)
- Technical Support Data Index (Attachment C)
is the Draft Section 4(f) Evaluation. Draft Section 4(f) evaluations analyze various project alternatives for avoiding publicly owned parks, recreation areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and/or public or private historic sites. Among other things, Draft Section 4(f) evaluations explains coordination with officials with jurisdiction and mitigation; explains if avoidance is feasible and prudent; and evaluate and document measures that might necessarily be made to minimize harm to any applicable properties.
An additional 309 pages of environmental documentation were made available in the form of amendment to the EA on November 30, 2011. The EA Addendum examined the potential impacts of traffic diversions to local roads and adjacent river crossings once all-electronic tolling (no toll booths) is implemented at the Scudder Falls Replacement Bridge. Among other things, the addendum evaluated factors such aesthetics, air quality, noise, environmental justice and cultural resources. The document also affirmed that a pedestrian/bicycle facility evaluated under the EA would be part of the project. Responses to public hearing comments gathered in the EA process may be found in Appendix H of the EA Addendum.
- June 2013 memo summarizing the traffic diversion findings in the EA Addendum
This pivotal document was the project’s most significant regulatory hurdle. Issued by the Federal Highway Administration on June 14, 2012, the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) validated the project’s extensive environmental documentation compiled by the Commission and the Scudder Falls Replacement Bridge project design management consultants. The decree officially completed the nine-year process of research, evaluation, public hearings and peer review regarding the project’s compliance with the federal National Environmental Policy Act. Most importantly, the FONSI allowed project preparations to shift to updating of project right-of-way plans, final design and eventual construction.
A Biological Assessment was compiled as part of the Environmental Assessment review process. The resulting report identifies how the river bottom habitat of shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic shortnose will be impacted in the project area, but not the fish directly. (None of these fish will be killed or injured, including eggs and larval shortnose sturgeon, because they will be excluded from areas of the riverbed where construction will take place.) The report identifies the construction measures that will be utilized to minimize effects on aquatic resources as well as proactive measures to promote recovery of the species. The report concludes: “…the effect to both species should be considered insignificant because the losses will be only a very small percentage of the habitat that is available to them (the sturgeon).”
This letter and accompanying documentation concerns project measures aimed at minimizing and monitoring project impacts on federal Threatened and Endangered species in the river. The opinion concludes that the project is likely to affect -- but not likely to jeopardize -- shortnose sturgeon in the project area.
Published in February 2012, this is the final document for legal sufficiency review under the Section 4(f) evaluation process. The document outlines the consideration of feasible and prudent avoidance alternatives for Section 4(f) properties (publicly owned parks, recreational areas, etc.) and coordination efforts with officials and agencies that have jurisdiction over these resources.