Environmental. We hear that word referred to often about everything from global warming to recycling. But what does “environmental” have to do with road construction? And why is it important to the Innovate Mound project?
Carolyn Seboe, AICP, HNTB group director – planning and technical services and Carly Mitchell, AICP, HNTB planning/transit section manager have answers to both questions. These planning professionals each have years of experience developing environmental studies for major infrastructure projects like Innovate Mound.
“Well, agencies like the Macomb County Department of Roads, or even the Michigan Department of Transportation, can’t just decide to reconstruct a road one day and start digging things up the next,” Seboe began.
“Major construction projects that get federal funding, like the INFRA grant Macomb County received for Mound Road, have to follow NEPA guidelines,” she said. “NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, says that agencies have to assess the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project before making final decisions on how to build it.”
“Within NEPA, there are different levels of evaluation depending on the complexity and impacts anticipated for a project,” added Mitchell. “For Mound Road, our team is developing what is called a Categorical Exclusion to access the potential social, economic, and environmental impacts of the project. This includes detailed studies on how reconstruction might influence the residential, business, historic, ecological, and physical environments along the corridor.”
The environmental team works closely with the public involvement team. Project planners attend public open houses and one-on-one meetings with individuals, organizations, and businesses within the project area. They also consider comments submitted to the project website. This important public input, along with data from their studies, is used to develop the environmental documentation and ultimately, the project design and construction.
“This process gives us confidence that we have a solid project based on strong public input that will have minimal impact on the corridor,” said Mitchell.
At this point, the biggest projected impact will be the temporary inconveniences caused by the construction process. This includes traffic slowdowns from lanes being reduced, temporary changes in access, and additional noise and dust.
The team began work on the Categorical Exclusion in late August 2019 and expects to receive approval from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), a division of the United States Department of Transportation, by the fall in order to move into the construction phase.
“Mound Road is a well-established corridor, which helps the environmental impacts to be minimal. We will communicate the findings to the community once the report is finalized. Though this is a lengthy and complex process, it ensures this project will stay true to the community once complete,” Seboe concluded.