Preliminary Design

The preliminary design phase includes the development of preliminary plans and construction costs for the selected alternative as well as obtaining environmental permits.  Site work such as establishing the proposed centerline and performing the geotechnical evaluation is performed, and the VTrans PM coordinates with the utility companies so they can prepare utility rerouting.  The VTrans Hydraulics Unit finalizes hydraulic data, and the right-of-way acquisition process is initiated.  This phase includes the acquisition of all appropriate environmental permits and the NEPA Re-evaluation, if necessary.

Preliminary plans advance conceptual plans by adding details such as width and depth transitions, curbs, guard rails, cut-to-fill transitions, drives, intersecting highway approaches, drainage and erosion control, traffic signs, pavement markings, street lighting, signalization, and detours.  Cross sections are templated, construction limits and notes will be placed on the layouts, and quantities are computed for all anticipated construction items.  Most permit applications are prepared during or soon after preliminary design plans are completed and approved. 


For projects that involve water crossings, the VTrans Hydraulics Unit performs detailed hydrologic and hydraulic analysis of the bridge, culvert, or other drainage structure to identify the design parameters for the structure of the crossing.  Design parameters may include the size of the structure, scour protection that may be needed, or other design elements.

Project Impact Data Form

The Project Impact Data Form is a summary of impacts to wetlands, surface waters, streams and rivers, and other resources.  Quantities of impervious area, details of right of way takings, and other information are also included.  The form in part serves as a checklist to ensure all resources have been addressed.  The form also documents the project’s resource impacts.  It may be filled out by the consultant or by VTrans Environmental Specialists.  This form will be updated as the project progresses, and some information will not be available at the Conceptual Plan stage.  Generally most of the project’s impacts will be quantifiable at the Preliminary Plan stage.  The Environmental Specialist retains a copy for the project file. 

Environmental Permits

Environmental permits are obtained during preliminary design.  The Environmental Specialist assigned to the project completes a checklist that lists all the state and federal permits that are anticipated to be required, along with notes of any special considerations for the project.  The form may be accessed here:  Permitting and Clearances Required Memo.

The most common permits or sign-offs that are obtained during the development of preliminary plans are listed below.  See Permitting Programs for more information on these and other programs.  The various permitting agencies will have been exposed to the project during earlier project phases and will have given their informal concurrence that the proposed project is permittable.  However, most of these agencies need to review preliminary plans before issuing a permit or signing off on the project.   Draft permit applications are reviewed by the Environmental Specialist and the appropriate Resource Specialists, and then when finalized are submitted to the appropriate agency. 

NEPA Re-Evaluation

The NEPA document is prepared and approved by FHWA during conceptual design, prior to preliminary design, and re-evaluated at subsequent “major actions”.  For example, prior to requesting authorization to acquire right-of-way, the Environmental Specialist shall establish whether or not the CE designation, Finding of No Significant Impact (for EAs), or Record of Decision (for EISs) remains valid.  Documentation of this determination shall take the form of a note to the project file.  However, if either of the following conditions is met, the Project Manager shall request that the Environmental Specialist submit a written NEPA Re-evaluation to the FHWA:

  • Time:  More than three (3) years has elapsed since the original NEPA determination or finding, and the project is approaching or at a “major action”, such as right-of-way acquisition, contract plans, and/or PS&E.
  • Design Changes:  The project scope, construction limits, impacts, or proposed mitigation have changed.

The re-evaluation is normally a letter to FHWA describing changes in the project, assessing the significance of the changes in terms of impacts, and, if the project does not qualify for the PACE, requesting FHWA concurrence.

Plan Reviews

The Environmental Section has the opportunity to review preliminary plans through VTrans’ internal on-line shared review system.  The Environmental Section reviews the plans to ensure that they are consistent with environmental commitments from the NEPA document and with permit conditions.