A: Caltrans has had many successful VA studies at all stages of project development. “The earlier the better” has become an infamous saying in the VA world. However, due to funding constraints and limitations in Caltrans, the VA study must be done in the PA&ED or PS&E phase (0 or 1 respectively) for Caltrans projects. Therefore, VA studies should be considered early in the PA&ED phase using the project information from the project initiation document (PSR, PID, PIR, etc...) as the starting point and primary source for project information.
VA studies held at this stage provide greater opportunities to benefit the project as major project decisions have not yet been made and things such as alignment options, structure type, etc. can be evaluated to improve the focus of the environmental technical studies. VA studies that occur later in PA&ED should be held prior to the draft document dates so that recommendations can be integrated into the PA&ED package. Such studies may be more constrained in terms of scope, however, the focus can shift more toward refining the final alternatives considered for PA&ED and often resolve stakeholder issues to realize significant benefits.
Although not ideal with respect to timing, VA studies that occur in PS&E can also benefit from a VA study. Studies in PS&E can focus on refining the approved concept, improving technical aspects of the project, and addressing innovative approaches to traffic handling, construction phasing, material types, etc... Such studies will be more constrained, but when applied properly, many benefits can be realized.
Larger projects should considered conducting multiple VA studies at different points in project delivery. On large projects (i.e. Corridor Projects) in addition to studies in the PA&ED phase, multiple studies should be conducted early in the PS&E phase and be focused on portions of the project based on the planned project phasing.
FHWA mandates that studies be performed before Ready to List (RTL). VA studies in Construction do not meet the Federal mandate.