Visual Impact Assessment

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Photo of Aesthetic Concrete Median Barrier in San Luis Obispo
Landscape architects minimize visual impacts to California’s cultural and scenic resources. This cultural landscape is on Route 1 in Sonoma County.

Introduction

A primary function of Landscape Architecture is to provide design expertise to protect and preserve California’s scenic, aesthetic, and environmental resources.  Landscape architects help protect the scenic quality of the highway corridor by performing Visual Impact Assessments (VIAs) as part of the environmental process for all transportation projects.  Departmental policy requires that VIAs be performed by licensed landscape architects whether for internally or externally developed projects. 

The VIA is a technical study required by NEPA and CEQA to assess potential impacts to the visual environment that can accompany highway improvements.  VIAs document the existing visual quality of the surrounding environment, include photo simulations and other visualization exhibits that illustrate the proposed project alternatives, evaluate the expected visual change caused by a project, assess public reaction to the expected change, identify visual impacts, and recommend measures to avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse visual impacts.

New FHWA Guidance

Caltrans is currently evaluating new guidance on Visual Impact Assessments (VIAs), recently released by FHWA. While the new guidance is under review, Caltrans will continue to use the existing VIA instructions, training, and templates located on the Caltrans Division of Design-Landscape Architecture Program (LAP) website and the Division of Environmental Analysis (DEA) website.  Any new Caltrans VIA guidance that is developed will be announced through a Policy Memorandum and posted on the LAP and DEA websites.

VIA Preparation Questionaire

Questions to help you determine a thorough, concise, and defensible level of VIA documentation.

VIA Online Training

A three-module on-line presentation on how to develop Visual Impact Assessments for highway projects.

Additional Guidance and Tools

To learn more about Visual Impact Assessment, see:

  • Standard Environmental Reference – Environmental Handbook Volume 1, Chapter 27, Visual & Aesthetics Review.
  • Project Development Procedures Manual – Chapter 29 (PDF) , Section 1 General, Definitions, General Policy, and Programs.