Project scoping is the process of developing and evaluating alternatives and selecting the most appropriate alternative for the conceptual design phase. There is variability in how different kinds and sizes of projects address scoping. The basic components of scoping are prescribed by Vermont Highway Law, 19 VSA § 10i, “Transportation Planning Process.” The law states: “For each project, a project scope shall be prepared to identify the problem to be resolved by the project, the preferred alternative, project limits, and its conceptual design and estimated costs.”
Scoping occurs after the approval of the project’s Purpose and Need Statement, which guides the development of the alternatives. Resource information is then gathered, and alternatives are developed. Two public meetings are typically held during the scoping phase: a Local Concerns Meeting, to gather information from the public, and an Alternatives Presentation Meeting, during which (or after which) a preferred alternative is selected. Scoping is complete when the scoping report, recommending a selected alternative, is accepted by the project manager.
Purpose and Need Statement
When the project is defined, a Purpose and Need statement is developed to state the problem and justify the need for the project. The statement needs to be able to be proven by facts, statistics, or even by photographs. If all aspects of the statement cannot be proven, either the statement is poorly written and thus weak, or the project is not needed, at least in the form originally thought. A Purpose and Need must conclusively illustrate that corrective effort is justifiable and worth the expenditure of public funds. The assumption for this is that there is proof of local and regional support for something to be done to correct deficiencies. The project purpose should not presuppose or identify a particular solution.
The Purpose and Need statement guides the development and selection of alternatives; if an alternative does not meet the Purpose and Need, it is eliminated from further consideration.
For bridge projects that will require hydraulic studies, the VTrans Program Manager submits a Hydraulic Request Form to the Hydraulics Unit at VTrans. The Hydraulics Unit performs hydrologic and hydraulic analyses for the proper sizing of all bridges, culverts and other drainage facilities needed on state and local highways. This section also provides expert advice to any Agency unit in the areas of water hydraulic resources, scour analyses and drainage issues.
Request for Environmental Resource Information
The Environmental Section, or the project consultant, identifies resources within the presumed Area of Potential Effect (APE) that need to be considered as the project moves forward. The APE for purposes of resource identification should cover all areas that may be directly affected by any project alternatives. Sources for this information may include, but are not limited to, field review, GIS layers from the Vermont Center for Geographic Information (VCGI), ANR’s GIS-based Natural Resources Atlas, VTrans Environmental Section Geodatabases, and other sources as listed below.
Historic sites and districts
VTrans Cultural Resources Staff
Archeologically sensitive areas
VTrans Cultural Resources Staff
Section 4(f) properties
VTrans Cultural Resources Staff and Environmental Specialists
Section 6(f) properties (Land and Water Conservation Fund)
Vermont ANR Department of Forests Parks and Recreation and Environmental Specialists
Agricultural lands or soils
Fish and wildlife habitats
Endangered and threatened species or habitats
Floodplains and floodways
ANR Natural Resources Atlas, VTrans Hydraulics Unit and FEMA
Hazardous waste sites
Community character/aesthetic/scenic resources
Social features and demographic data
Town and regional plans
Town Offices or Regional Planning Commissions
Concurrent with this resource review, the Project Manager submits a survey request and gathers information on traffic, utilities, and right of way from the appropriate VTrans sections.
Most projects include a Local Concerns Meeting to gather local and regional input about the problem to be addressed. VTrans organizes the meeting, and the municipality and the RPC participate. Based on input from this meeting and on available resource information, alternatives are developed for analysis. The “No-Build” alternative is also considered.
Preliminary Impacts / Evaluation Matrix
Once the range of reasonable alternatives has been developed, they are evaluated for their relative level of impacts to various resources, typically (though not always) in an evaluation matrix. The purpose of the evaluation matrix is to present information about the alternatives in a manner that facilitates comparison and helps ensure that the impacts of each alternative are considered consistently. The evaluation matrix is filled out by the VTrans or consultant project manager based in part on information obtained from environmental specialists.
The evaluation matrix lists the resource impacts and permitting requirements of each alternative. The level of detail provided in the matrix should be commensurate with the importance of the resources and the scope of the project. The matrix should detail the temporary, permanent and indirect impacts of each alternative on each resource. All of these impacts should be individually noted in the evaluation matrix.
In some cases a simple evaluation matrix may suffice, with impacts listed as “yes” or “no”, for example, rather than quantified. This may be appropriate for feasibility studies or planning studies; when the resource data is not mapped in detail; when the project is only developed to a schematic level; or when the differences in resource impacts are clear-cut. Examples of evaluation matrices can be found here.
Once impacts have been evaluated, an alternative is selected based on input from the public gathered during the “Alternative Presentation” public meeting and on the magnitude of impacts to resources. An Initial Scoping Report is prepared that contains the Purpose and Need, project description, and a discussion of issues or potential impacts. The scoping report recommends an alternative, and includes location maps, plans with typical and critical sections as needed, photographs, traffic and accident data, level of service analysis, sufficiency ratings, bridge inspection report and hydraulic report (if bridge project) as well as all correspondence with the state regulatory agencies. The scoping report is distributed to the resource agencies, the municipality, and the RPC. After a three week comment period, a final scoping report is prepared. Scoping concludes when the Scoping Report is approved by the Project Manager.