[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 45 (Tuesday, March 8, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 12788-12791]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-5201]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Federal Transit Administration


Environmental Impact Statement for a Proposed Urban Rail system 
in Austin, TX

AGENCY: Federal Transit Administration, DOT.

ACTION: Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.

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SUMMARY: The Federal Transit Administration (FTA), as the Federal lead 
agency, and the City of Austin (the City) intend to prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Urban Rail system 
in Austin, Texas. The EIS will be prepared in accordance with 
regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 
as well as provisions of the recently enacted Safe, Accountable, 
Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users 
(SAFETEA-LU). The proposed project, described more completely within, 
is an Urban Rail System, similar to Streetcar, that would connect key 
activity centers within Central Austin--Mueller Transit-Oriented 
Redevelopment (Mueller), the University of Texas at Austin (UT) campus, 
the State Capitol Complex (Capitol), the central business district 
(CBD), and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) with each

[[Page 12789]]

other and to emerging regional transportation network nodes for 
commuter rail, regional rail, and rapid bus in Austin, Travis County, 
Texas. The purpose of this notice is to alert interested parties 
regarding the intent to prepare the EIS, to provide information on the 
nature of the proposed project and possible alternatives, and to invite 
public participation in the EIS process.

DATES: Written comments on the scope of the EIS, including the 
project's purpose and need, the alternatives to be considered, the 
impacts to be evaluated, and the methodologies to be used in the 
evaluations should be sent to Mr. Scott Gross, P.E., Study Manager, 
City of Austin Transportation Department on or before Friday, April 29, 
2011. Written comments should be submitted at least two weeks after the 
final scoping meeting or at least 30 days after publication of the NOI, 
whichever date is later. Two public scoping meetings will be held by 
FTA during which questions about the project will be addressed and 
written comments will be accepted. The scoping meetings will be held on 
the following dates:
     Monday, April 4, 2011; 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; at the Austin 
Convention Center (Meeting Room 3 on first floor), 500 E. Cesar Chavez 
Street, Austin, TX 78709, Telephone (512) 404-4000.
     Wednesday, April 6, 2011; 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; at the 
Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) (Conference Room on 
first floor) in the Mueller Redevelopment, 4700 Mueller Boulevard, 
Austin, TX 78723, Telephone (512) 476-6861.
    Three local agency public outreach meetings, at which information 
about the project will be provided, will be held on the following 
dates:
     Thursday, April 7, 2011; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; at the AT&T 
Executive Education and Conference Center (Classroom 103 on first 
floor), 1900 University Avenue, Austin, TX 78705, Telephone (512) 404-
1900.
     Thursday, April 7, 2011; 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; at the George 
Washington Carver Museum (Museum Foyer), 1161 Angelina Street, Austin, 
TX 78702, Telephone (512) 974-4926.
     Saturday, April 9, 2011; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; at the Ruiz 
Branch Library (Meeting Rooms), 1600 Grove Boulevard, Austin, TX 78741, 
Telephone (512) 974-7500.
    The buildings used for the meetings are accessible to persons with 
disabilities. Any individual who requires special assistance, such as a 
sign language interpreter, to participate in the meetings should 
contact Mari[oacute]n S[aacute]nchez at Estilo Communications (512)-
477-1018 or marion@estilopr.com, five days prior to the meeting.
    Information describing the project purpose and need and the 
alternatives proposed for analysis will be available at the meetings 
and on the project Web site at http://www.austinstrategicmobility.com/resources/urban-rail-project. Paper copies of the information materials 
may also be obtained from Mr. Scott Gross, P.E., Study Manager, City of 
Austin Transportation Department at (512) 974-5621 or e-mail 
scott.gross@ci.austin.tx.us. Representatives of Native American Tribal 
governments and of all Federal, State, regional and local agencies that 
may have an interest in any aspect of the project will be invited to be 
participating or cooperating agencies, as appropriate.

ADDRESSES: Written comments on the scope of the EIS, including the 
project's purpose and need, the alternatives to be considered, the 
impacts to be evaluated, and the methodologies to be used in the 
evaluations will be accepted at the public scoping meetings or they may 
be sent to: Mr. Scott Gross, P.E., Study Manager, City of Austin 
Transportation Department, 505 Barton Springs Road, Suite 800, Austin, 
TX 78704, e-mail scott.gross@ci.austin.tx.us.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Julieann Dwyer, Environmental 
Protection Specialist, Federal Transit Administration Region VI, 819 
Taylor Street, Room 8A36, Fort Worth, TX 76102, phone 817-978-0550, e-
mail julieann.dwyer@dot.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Scoping

    FTA and the City of Austin invite all interested individuals and 
organizations, public agencies, and Native American Tribes to comment 
on the scope of the EIS for the proposed Urban Rail system, including 
the project's purpose and need, the alternatives to be studied, the 
impacts to be evaluated, and the evaluation methods to be used. 
Comments should address (1) feasible alternatives that may better 
achieve the project's purpose and need with fewer adverse impacts, and 
(2) any significant environmental impacts relating to the alternatives.
    ``Scoping'' as described in the regulations implementing the 
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (Title 40 of the Code of 
Federal Regulations (CFR) 1501.7) has specific and fairly limited 
objectives, one of which is to identify the significant issues 
associated with alternatives that will be examined in detail in the 
document, while simultaneously limiting consideration and development 
of issues that are not truly significant. It is in the NEPA scoping 
process that potentially significant environmental impacts-- those that 
give rise to the need to prepare an environmental impact statement--
should be identified; impacts that are deemed not to be significant 
need not be developed extensively in the context of the impact 
statement, thereby keeping the statement focused on impacts of 
consequence consistent with the ultimate objectives of the NEPA 
implementing regulations--``to make the environmental impact statement 
process more useful to decision makers and the public; and to reduce 
paperwork and the accumulation of extraneous background data, in order 
to emphasize the need to focus on real environmental issues and 
alternatives * * * [by requiring] impact statements to be concise, 
clear, and to the point, and supported by evidence that agencies have 
made the necessary environmental analyses'' (Executive Order 11991, of 
May 24, 1977). Transit projects may also generate environmental 
benefits; these should be highlighted as well--the impact statement 
process should draw attention to positive impacts, not just negative 
impacts.
    Once the scope of the environmental study, including significant 
environmental issues to be addressed, is settled, an annotated outline 
of the document will be prepared and shared with participating agencies 
and posted on the project Web site. The outline serves at least three 
worthy purposes, including (1) Documenting the results of the scoping 
process; (2) contributing to the transparency of the process; and (3) 
providing a clear roadmap for concise development of the environmental 
document.

Purpose and Need for the Project

    The purpose of the Urban Rail system is to improve the mobility, 
connectivity, and sustainability of Central Austin--the region's core--
by providing greater mobility options; improving person-moving 
capacity; improving access and linkages to major activity centers and 
commuter and regional rail; supporting the City's environmental, public 
health, and economic development goals; and encouraging investment.
    The need for the proposed Urban Rail system is based on the 
following considerations for Central Austin: A need for direct 
connectivity between Mueller Redevelopment, the University of Texas, 
the State Capitol Complex, the central business district, and Austin-

[[Page 12790]]

Bergstrom International Airport; a need for a direct link between 
existing and planned passenger rail systems at opposite sides of 
downtown; a need for increased transportation network capacity in 
constrained rights-of-way through established neighborhoods; a need for 
additional alternatives to single-occupancy/privately owned vehicles; a 
need to attract and concentrate development within the region's core; a 
need to improve air quality by reducing the growth of automobile 
emissions; and a need to support the City's environmental, public 
health, and economic development goals.

Alternatives

    The City of Austin Transportation Department (ATD) completed the 
Central Austin Transit Study (CATS) Alternatives Evaluation in July 
2010, which evaluated potential route, technology, and investment 
alternatives. The CATS is posted on the project Web site. ATD 
recommended Urban Rail as the modal option on the alignment described 
above in July 2010, after evaluating three investment alternatives: No-
Build, Better Bus (TSM), and Urban Rail. The Better Bus (TSM) 
Alternative, as described in detail in the CATS, was considered per FTA 
New Starts requirements and will not be examined further for NEPA 
purposes because it does not meet the purpose and need of the proposed 
action. Accordingly, the Urban Rail Alternative and the No-Build 
Alternative are proposed to be evaluated in the EIS. These two NEPA 
alternatives are described as follows:
    No-Build Alternative: The No-Build Alternative is defined as the 
existing transportation system, plus any committed transportation 
improvements. Committed transportation improvements include the highway 
and transit projects in CAMPO's current fiscally constrained long-range 
transportation plan, CAMPO 2035 Plan, as amended, except for the 
proposed Urban Rail system. The No-Build Alternative serves as the NEPA 
baseline against which the environmental effects of other alternatives, 
including the proposed project, are measured. Under the No-Build 
Alternative, the transit network within the project area is projected 
to be substantially the same as it is now, with bus service adjusted to 
meet anticipated demand. All elements of the No-Build Alternative are 
included in each of the other alternatives.
    Urban Rail Alternative: The Urban Rail Alternative would utilize 
modern streetcar technology on the alignment described above, along 
with all of the elements of the No[hyphen]Build Alternative. Urban Rail 
is the City of Austin's term for an overhead[hyphen]electric powered 
fixed[hyphen]guideway service that blends the operational 
characteristics of modern streetcar and light rail transit (LRT). Urban 
Rail may use shared street or exclusive rights-of-way with single- or 
multi-car trains, boarding passengers at track level or car floor 
level.
    Other refinements to the Urban Rail Alternative will be considered 
as part of the EIS alternatives' evaluation process, including 
refinement of the proposed alignment, Lady Bird Lake crossing options, 
project termini, operating plans, stop locations, vehicle storage and 
maintenance facility location, and/or design alternatives, such as 
median-running vs. curb-running location within the preferred 
alignment. While the environmental process will examine the entire 16.5 
mile system, an initial phase or First Investment Segment (FIS), 
consisting of a minimum operating segment (MOS), will be identified 
within this NEPA process and may be constructed and operated as a 
starter system, with the remainder being constructed during subsequent 
phases.
    In addition to the alternatives described above, other transit 
alternatives identified through the public and agency scoping process 
will be evaluated for potential inclusion in the EIS.

EIS Process and the Role of Participating Agencies and the Public

    The regulations implementing NEPA, as well as provisions of the 
Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A 
Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), call for public involvement in the EIS 
process. Section 6002 of SAFETEA-LU (23 U.S.C. 139) require that FTA 
and the City do the following: (1) Extend an invitation to other 
Federal and non-Federal agencies and Native American Tribes that may 
have an interest in the proposed project to become ``participating 
agencies;'' (2) provide an opportunity for involvement by participating 
agencies and the public to help define the purpose and need for a 
proposed project, as well as the range of alternatives for 
consideration in the EIS; and (3) establish a plan for coordinating 
public and agency participation in, and comment on, the environmental 
review process. Any Federal or non-Federal agency or Native American 
Tribe interested in the proposed project that does not receive an 
invitation to become a participating agency should notify at the 
earliest opportunity the Project Manager identified above under 
ADDRESSES.
    A comprehensive public involvement program and a Coordination Plan 
for public and interagency involvement will be developed for the 
project and posted on the project's Web site at http://www.austinstrategicmobility.com/resources/urban-rail-project. The 
public involvement program includes a full range of activities 
including maintaining the project Web site and outreach to local 
officials, community and civic groups, and the public. Specific 
activities or events for involvement will be detailed in the project's 
public participation plan.

Paperwork Reduction

    The Paperwork Reduction Act seeks, in part, to minimize the cost to 
the taxpayer of the creation, collection, maintenance, use, 
dissemination, and disposition of information. Consistent with this 
goal and with principles of economy and efficiency in government, it is 
FTA policy to limit insofar as possible distribution of complete 
printed sets of environmental documents. Accordingly, unless a specific 
written request for a complete printed set of environmental documents 
is received by the close of the scoping process by the Project Manager 
identified under ADDRESSES, FTA and its grantees will distribute only 
the executive summary and a Compact Disc (CD) of the complete 
environmental document. A complete printed set of the environmental 
document will be available for review at the project sponsor's offices 
and elsewhere; an electronic copy of the complete environmental 
document will also be available on the project Web site.

Other

    The City is expecting to seek New or Small Starts funding for some 
or all phases of the proposed project under 49 United States Code 5309 
and will, therefore, be subject to New Starts regulations (49 Code of 
Federal Regulations (CFR) part 611) at some point in the project 
development process. The New and Small Starts regulations also require 
the submission of certain project justification and local financial 
commitment information to support a request to FTA for approval of 
entry into the Preliminary Engineering phase of the New Starts review 
process. Pertinent New Starts evaluation criteria will be included in 
the EIS.
    The EIS will be prepared in accordance with NEPA and its 
implementing regulations issued by the Council on Environmental Quality 
(40 CFR parts 1500-1508) and with the FTA/Federal Highway 
Administration regulations ``Environmental Impact and

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Related Procedures'' (23 CFR part 771). Related environmental 
procedures to be addressed during the NEPA process include, but are not 
limited to, Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice; Section 106 
of the National Historic Preservation Act; and Section 4(f) of the DOT 
Act (49 U.S.C. 303).

    Issued on: March 2, 2011.
Blas M. Uribe,
Deputy Regional Administrator, Federal Transit Administration Region 
VI, Fort Worth, Texas.
[FR Doc. 2011-5201 Filed 3-7-11; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4910-57-P