California Department of Transportation
District 6 Director Sharri Bender Ehlert
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1352 W. Olive Avenue
P.O. Box 12616
Fresno, CA 93778-2616


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Environmental Planner FAQs

What is an environmental planner/generalist?

A Caltrans environmental planner/generalist is the project coordinator for the environmental work. A planner makes sure that the project stays on schedule during the environmental studies phase, coordinates between engineers and environmental specialists, performs special studies such as community impact assessments, and contacts and coordinates with the public (including holding public meetings).

I received a request for signing a “permit to enter” and am wondering what studies must take place?

If the “permit to enter” did not specify the environmental study taking place, please contact the person who signed the letter for further information. Each study would have potentially different impacts, if any, to your property. Environmental studies range from biology, archaeology, historical resources, and hazardous waste to paleontology, water, air, noise, and geology. For some projects, all of these studies have to be performed; some projects may require only one or two. No matter which studies have to be performed, Caltrans will restore your property to its original condition.

What environmental laws pertain to a transportation project?

There are a great number of laws and regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act that apply to transportation projects. Every project is different, and different laws might apply. At the following website, you can find links to guidelines, laws and regulations that could pertain to your project:
(Check under Topic Matrices, Env. Handbooks and Other Guidance for additional information.)

Do you have comments or concerns and want to know whom to express them to?

General comments and concerns can be voiced to the Public Information Officer in the district the project is located in. Caltrans phone numbers and contact persons can be found online at:
For specific projects, please contact the environmental planner or project manager assigned to the project. That contact information can be obtained from the Public Information Officer. Comments and concerns can be submitted by phone, email or U.S. mail.

Why does the environmental process take so long?

A number of environmental laws apply to any project Caltrans wants to build. Each law requires certain studies, and some of them can be performed only during certain times of the year. Each study has to be reviewed by public agencies and the Federal Highway Administration. Depending on the workloads of Caltrans staff and the reviewing agencies, the complexity of the studies, and any public controversy, this process can take several years before a final decision can be made.

May I have a copy of all the reports? I want to know what they have found on my property?

As soon as the environmental studies have been released for publication, copies of all studies (special rules apply to the cultural studies reports) can be obtained from the Public Information Officer in the district the project is in or from the environmental planner or project manager assigned to the project.

How is an alternative selected?

In general, the alternative that causes the least damage to the environment, best protects natural and cultural resources, and best meets the purpose and need of the project will be chosen as the preferred alternative. After public input is received and analyzed and the draft environmental document has been circulated to the public, the Project Development Team makes a recommendation to the District Director of the local Caltrans office. The District Director makes the final decision.

When is an alternative selected?

Alternatives are being discussed throughout the process and in the publicized draft environmental document. After comments have been received and analyzed following the public comment period, the Project Development Team makes a recommendation to the local Caltrans District Director. The decision will be publicized in the final environmental document. If you commented on the environmental document, a copy of the final environmental document will be sent to you.

How and when can I comment on any given project?

You can submit a suggestion, comment or information to the project environmental planner, project manager or project engineer at any time throughout the development of the project and during public meetings. If you feel that your concerns have not been addressed, comments can be submitted in writing via mail or email, by phone or in person during the public comment period. All comments received will become an official part of the environmental document. Answers to your questions will be published in the final environmental document sent to you via mail.

Who can comment on environmental documents?

Generally, anybody who has an interest in the project. Usually, Caltrans will contact and ask for comments from people living in the project area, property owners, local agencies (cities, counties, Council of Governments, local transportation commissions, etc.), state and federal agencies (California Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, air pollution control districts, water districts, etc.), and special interest groups (trucking associations, AAA, etc.).

How would I find out about a project in my area?

Depending on the complexity of a project, throughout the environmental process of a project, Caltrans informs property owners in the area through public meetings, direct mailings of information, Public Notices in local newspapers, notices on local TV and radio stations and/or other venues. You can always contact the Caltrans Public Information Officer of your district about current projects.

What does _________ mean?

Although we strive to make our environmental documents and related material as easy to understand as possible, Caltrans and the environmental field do have their own unique language and jargon. The following website provides definitions of commonly used environmental phrases and words:

Why does Caltrans perform environmental studies?

Caltrans, as a department of the State of California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, is required to comply with state and federal preservation legislation and regulations. Most Caltrans projects are federally funded and/or require federal licenses or permits, and therefore are subject to federal laws and regulations such as the National Environmental Policy Act (also known as NEPA) of 1969. For projects that are not federally funded, Caltrans must comply with state legislation such as the California Environmental Quality Act (also known as CEQA) of 1970.

What are environmental studies?

Environmental studies encompass a vast array of disciplines within the environmental division, including biology, archaeology, architectural history, paleontology, and air/water/noise specialties. Each study identifies potential environmental resources and issues within the project area and evaluates a project‘s effects on those resources/issues. Refer to the specialist FAQ sheets for detailed information regarding specialist duties.

Why does Caltrans protect only furry animals and fairy shrimp, but not humans?

The environmental laws also protect the human environment. For instance, Caltrans studies the effects of any potential increase in noise on people living near the project. Also studied are the visual impacts of projects, how a project might affect residents‘ daily lives and their daily commute. Studies look at a project‘s impact on neighborhoods, the opportunity for employment in the area, and emergency services response times.

When are environmental studies performed, and how long do they last?

Environmental studies are generally performed during the planning and development phase of the project—after the project is funded, but before actual construction. Because each project is different, either in its design and/or its location, it has its own environmental issues and therefore the timeframe is project specific. Generally speaking, studies can take anywhere from six months to more than three years to complete.

Does the public/individual have an opportunity to comment on the results of the environmental studies?

Public participation is the cornerstone of the National Environmental Policy Act process. It is the intent of the National Environmental Policy Act that agencies encourage and facilitate public involvement in decisions, which affect the quality of the human environment. The Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Authority define the “public” broadly as including all individuals or groups who are potentially affected by transportation decisions. This includes anyone who resides in, has interest in, or does business in a given area, which may be affected by transportation decisions. The “public” includes both individuals and organized groups.

The public is provided the opportunity to participate at various phases within the environmental study process—at public meetings, open houses, or during document review. All public comment opportunities are advertised in local newspapers, and all draft environmental documents are made available to the public through distribution to local libraries, interested parties, and individuals.

If Caltrans is performing environmental studies on my property, does that mean Caltrans will eventually build the freeway on my property?

Not necessarily, but it is possible. Speak to the environmental planner/generalist for project specifics. Often, environmental study areas extend beyond the specific area where the freeway project actually lies. This may be due to the nature of the environmental study itself (see specialist FAQ sheets), or the project may have multiple alternatives, which would extend the project study area.

How will environmental studies affect my property, either physically or financially?

For the most part, environmental studies consist primarily of observations (specialists looking at the site), although minor ground disturbances created by shovel or hand trowel may be required, for instance, for cultural resources studies. In that case, any holes would be filled and compacted immediately. If major ground disturbance is necessary (for paleontological or archaeological excavations), rights-of-entry permits will be negotiated specific to the work necessary, and potential property damage and compensation will be addressed within that permit.

For more information, see the Caltrans Standard Environmental Reference at