California Department of Transportation

Module 1: Policy and Process

Slide 98

Module 1 Summary

This ends the presentation for Module 1.

Let’s summarize the important points.


Slide 99

Module 1 Summary

The first lesson provided an overview of the class, its structure, content, and method of instruction.  It also contained a pre-test which when taken again at the conclusion of the course, will allow students to judge how well they have learned the concepts covered in this course.  But most importantly, the first lesson offered an exercise that showed how people tend to agree which landscapes are aesthetically pleasing and which are not.  This concept—the consistency with which human beings perceive aesthetics—is the very foundation of this course.  Without this consistency, the objective evaluation of visual impacts would be impossible.

From information gained in the second lesson, you should now understand that Caltrans conducts visual impact assessments not only because they are legally required but also because the public demands that government projects not harm their visual environment. No one wants the government to make their environment less aesthetically pleasing.  Indeed, NEPA demands that federal and state levels of government provide an aesthetically pleasing environment for all Americans.  But even this requirement is merely the legalization of a national sentiment.  The most important reason for assessing visual impacts is that the public desires an aesthetically pleasing environment and will not accept a state agency making their visual environment ugly.  Lawsuits over visual quality are evidence of this sentiment.

The primary rationale for this training, as detailed in the third lesson, is to improve the fidelity and consistency with which the FHWA VIA process is applied throughout Caltrans—both geographically and from year to year.  Courts have repeatedly stated that a consistent and understandable VIA process is required for a state agency to legally prevail.

The regulatory setting is at all levels of government—federal, state, and even local—is the fourth main topic.  The need to assess visual impacts is derived mostly from federal law—the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—and from state law—the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Although federal and state projects are not required to meet local ordinances, most of these projects should consider those ordinances pertaining to visual issues.  In particular, CEQA requires a consideration of local plans which at a minimum provide insight into the visual resources valued by the local community and the public’s sensitivity and exposure to change in their visual environment.

Simplified, the VIA Overview in the fifth lesson noted that the FHWA VIA process has two major components—visual resources and viewers—following physiology’s and psychology's stimulus/response paradigm. Visual impacts are simply the changes to visual resources which stimulate a response in viewers to that change.

For the last lesson, a fictitious highway improvement scenario—originally a team project—was created to explore the FHWA VIA process and develop an actual VIA.  It is recommended that the map, narrative, and photolog be studied closely before the student continues with Modules 2 and 3 of this training.


Slide 101

Upcoming Module 2

In the next module we will explore how the Caltrans scoping process relates to the VIA. 
We will dissect the landscape in order to better understand its structure and then we will divide it into manageable units for further study.

Also, we will look at what the FHWA calls “Landscape Character” understanding the components that create it and how to judge a highway project’s compatibility with it.

Finally we will consider Viewers.  Finding out who they are and how exposed and sensitive they are to changes in the visual environment.


Slide 102

Upcoming Module 3

In the last module, Module 3, we will examine the concept of visual quality, as defined by the FHWA.  We will examine what generates visual impacts and how to assess them.  We will explore how to appropriately mitigate adverse impacts and how to take advantage of enhancement opportunities.

We will examine how to tailor a VIA to the complexity of the project and the level of environmental documentation.  We will also examine, briefly, the art and science of simulating changes to the visual environment.

Finally, we will summarize the VIA process, and the tools the students can take from the training.

Slide 103

Congratulations for completing the first six lessons.  This module was primarily an overview of the class and the VIA process. In the modules that follow we will explore the VIA process more thoroughly.  Please visit Module 2 when you’re ready to continue with this course.


Module 2A - Visual Character, Introduction