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What is a Corridor Planning Study?

MDT developed the Corridor Planning Process in an effort to better coordinate and link the planning process with the NEPA/MEPA process. It is important to note that the Corridor Planning Study is developed strictly as a planning project and not a design project. The results of the study will be used to determine the level of environmental documentation to be used prior to continuation of the NEPA/MEPA process and project implementation.

Historically, when a highway engineering deficiency was identified, the project was advanced to a preliminary design phase, and an environmental document under NEPA/MEPA was developed. This document identified and analyzed alternatives and their associated impacts. The Culbertson Corridor Planning Study allows for earlier planning-level coordination with the public, resource and other agencies, and will develop specific factors that can be used in the subsequent environmental review process as projects are moved forward from the study. The corridor study is designed to help facilitate a smooth and efficient transition from transportation planning to project development/environmental review.

What does a "pre-NEPA/MEPA Corridor Study" mean?

NEPA is the National Environmental Policy Act. Modeled after NEPA, MEPA is the Montana Environmental Policy Act, and it only applies to state agencies and state actions. NEPA/MEPA is a federal law that outlines policies and goals to be complied with to protect our environment. The NEPA/MEPA process also makes sure that environmental information is available to the public before decisions are made and carried out.

The Culbertson Corridor Planning Study was a pre-NEPA/MEPA study that included a high level environmental scan of potential issues that may arise as a project moves forward from this study and identifies potential mitigation opportunities.

For additional information, refer to MDT's corridor study process.

What steps were taken during the Corridor Study?

In order to maintain a smooth and efficient transition from transportation planning to project development/environmental review, MDT established several steps that were followed to produce an effective corridor study plan. These included:

  1. Developing a corridor study work plan. The planning team assessed the complexity of issues within the corridor and the level of effort required to address the issues.
  2. Developing existing and projected conditions report. The report analyzed existing and projected conditions, incorporate findings from an environmental scan, and consider local community vision, goals and objectives. Perceived corridor deficiencies, known impacts and potential mitigation opportunities were documented as part of the report.
  3. Identifying needs, issues, impacts, goals, and screening criteria. The planning team considered comments from resource and local agencies and public involvement to develop screening criteria and objectives for improvement options analysis. The screening criteria was related to the identified needs, issues, impacts, goals, costs, and funding and resources available.
  4. Determining improvement options advanced and not advanced. The planning team analyzed each improvement option using the identified screening criteria leading to a selection of preliminary improvement options advanced and not advanced.
  5. Recommending improvement options. The planning team recommended a complete package of improvement option(s) for improving the Culbertson corridor. Potential impacts and mitigation opportunities were identified within the corridor.
  6. Preparing draft corridor study report. Based on key findings, needs, screening criteria, and recommendations, the planning team developed a draft corridor study report. Consultation and comments on the draft report was obtained from resource agencies as well as through public involvement.
  7. Making recommendations. The planning team finalized the corridor study report. This Corridor Study may then transition forward to project development and environmental review.

What was the outcome of the study?

The results of the study will be used to determine the level of environmental documentation to be used prior to any projects moving forward, as well as the identification of funding sources and phasing of potential improvements. The corridor planning study identified improvement options and the potential for environmental impacts, and identified potential mitigation efforts to minimize such environmental impacts. The study serves as a planning process, not a design or environmental process. Recommendations will consider the least environmental impact and feasibility.

Who conducted this study?

The Montana Department of Transportation was the contracting authority for this study. The Helena office of CDM Smith assisted MDT in completing the planning effort.

How was the public/community informed and involved in the study?

The general public was invited to participate in the process through public meetings and ongoing project information review and input. This project web site was developed to provide on-line opportunities to comment on the needs of the Culbertson corridor and the draft plan recommendations. Dates, times, and locations for all public outreach were announced prior to the events through the local media and the project mailing list.

CDM Smith and MDT collected and considered all public comments received to better understand the public view of potential issues. The team determined the next steps that best meets the study purpose and has the support of cooperating organizations, regulatory agencies, stakeholders, and the general public.