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Insight

Enhance Project Delivery with the Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) Process

By applying the PEL process, transportation planners can improve project efficiency, help coordinate permitting and shorten delivery time.

Whether your priority is to identify a project that serves the needs of your community, shorten your project delivery time, or assess the feasibility of a project and its alter­na­tives, the Planning and Envi­ron­men­tal Linkage (PEL) process can help. PEL helps planners identify and evaluate trans­porta­tion needs, and evaluate relevant envi­ron­men­tal concerns, such as ecological impacts, conser­va­tion and restoration efforts. By following the PEL process on your project, you can more effectively stimulate collab­o­ra­tion early and create a strong roadmap for the project’s future. 

What is PEL?
PEL is a process that identifies and links trans­porta­tion issues and envi­ron­men­tal concerns to guide decision making and conduct valuable analyses that can identify and prioritize infra­struc­ture improve­ments, develop the need case for a project, establish a project scope and schedule, identify a range of alter­na­tives, and support downstream National Envi­ron­men­tal Policy Act (NEPA) reviews.

Using PEL to Create a Roadmap to Future Improve­ments
Typically used to identify, define and develop long-range planning initiatives, a PEL study brings agencies and the appropriate stake­hold­ers to the table early. “When a road is laid down, it’s not just a road,” explains CDM Smith trans­porta­tion planner Madhu Narayanasamy, AICP. “It can bring economic development, which is why it’s important to engage all agencies and parties when the process is just starting. That’s why all projects, partic­u­larly ones spanning multiple juris­dic­tions, can greatly benefit from PEL studies.”

According to Narayanasamy, the PEL process encourages planners to:

  • Identify network gaps and trans­porta­tion needs. System planning helps identify current conditions and uncover any gaps and areas of improvement to create a need statement.
  • Identify and establish roles and respon­si­bil­i­ties for community stake­hold­ers. Community outreach efforts help establish an advisory group of agency repre­sen­ta­tives, consultants, community members and other key stake­hold­ers that will serve as a resource throughout a project’s lifetime.
  • Define or redefine the travel corridor for which you would like to conduct a planning feasibility study. Working with key stake­hold­ers and community members to pinpoint travel corridors and/or areas of interest provides a holistic approach to project planning, narrowing down the trans­porta­tion needs identified during system planning.
  • Develop a purpose statement. Define the project’s purpose by outlining goals, objectives and performance measures that will help guide the project and measure success throughout its lifetime.
  • Create a range of alter­na­tives and assess the feasibility of each alternative. Screening for alter­na­tives helps revisit the original purpose and need for the project. During this phase, planners can reassess things, identify existing planning flaws and consider alternative modes or initiatives that will help solve the problem at hand.
  • Identify envi­ron­men­tal impacts and resources. Doing so guides project teams to discuss potential impacts, the overarching effects they may have, and mitigation and planning strategies to address these concerns. Some major consid­er­a­tions planners should make during the last step include tolling and finance measures, modal options, land use and envi­ron­men­tal concerns, mitigation of potential project impacts, travel demands, regional development and growth, population and employment analysis, docu­men­ta­tion of envi­ron­men­tal conditions, and more.
When a road is laid down, it’s not just a road. Many transportation projects bring economic development.
Madhu Narayanasamy, Project Manager
Madhu Narayanasamy Madhu Narayanasamy
Our company’s culture supports learning and development—on and off the job.
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PEL Unifies Project Teams to Expedite NEPA Permitting
With so many moving parts to consider on a planning project, the PEL process provides a framework for project teams to follow, helping expedite the NEPA process and ultimately shortening project delivery time by mitigating problems during early planning stages. Detailed documents collected help project teams reap the full benefit of the PEL process and transition seamlessly NEPA permitting, as documents prepared throughout the PEL process can be carried forward to the NEPA process with little to no alterations to save time and effort during permitting.

These documents, in combination with the early coordination and relationship building between state, local, and federal agencies, NEPA practitioners, and public stakeholders, provides extra support to corridor planning projects and unifies project teams across disciplines and agencies to eliminate duplicate efforts.

Leveraging the improved coordination between parties and close relationships to raise awareness on important matters at an early stage unifies expectations, validates or challenges project goals, and ultimately helps to mitigate problems early on before construction begins. “With the level of involvement PEL prompts, project members feel like they are a part of building their community.,” explains Narayanasamy. “They can watch their project get funded, go from design to completion, and then see the positive impacts it has on their community.”

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