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What is a PEL Study?

August 1, 2023

What is a PEL Study?

This is the second in a series of short posts from Community Liaison Jim Gish whose purpose is to inform the public about developments with the Vergennes PEL Study and provide background on this three-year evaluation of alternative routes for VT 22A truck traffic.

Prior to joining the Vergennes PEL Study team this Spring as Community Liaison, I was aware of the plan to revisit the idea of rerouting VT 22A truck traffic away from Main Street Vergennes, both from reading articles in The Addison Independent and seeing the need for a study firsthand. 

But a PEL Study?  I needed to do a little research.  Let me share with you what I found out.

A Front End to Environmental Review

PEL stands for Planning and Environment Linkages.  That by itself doesn’t tell you a lot.  To understand the meaning behind the words, let’s go back to 1969 and the passage of the National Environmental Protection Act, known to planners and engineers as NEPA.

NEPA requires all Federal agencies to evaluate and document the environmental impacts of proposed projects.  As you can imagine, new transportation projects in Vermont funded by the Federal Highway Administration fall into this category.  We went through an environmental review when I was working as Community Liaison for the Middlebury Bridge and Rail Project.  This is part of the process.

So the phrase “Planning and Environment Linkages” starts to make sense if we think about linking planning for a new transportation project with the need to evaluate its environmental impacts.

The Benefits of a PEL Study

The Federal Highway Administration introduced the PEL study concept in 2008 because environmental reviews—and therefore transportation projects themselves—were growing more complex, more costly, and taking longer to complete.  A more efficient approach to decision-making was needed.

That more efficient approach encourages collaboration in the early stages of planning.  That means the wide range of federal and state agencies that weigh in on a transportation project are brought in early in the planning process.  That helps to accelerate project delivery and minimize overall costs.

The PEL process is particularly helpful in larger transportation projects where, as is the case with VT 22A, there is no one clear-cut solution to the needs being addressed and so more study is needed.

The Importance of You

The PEL study is also designed to narrow down the options on the table when evaluating a transportation project and the key to that is your involvement.  The more stakeholders take part in the PEL process, the more community members share their perspective, the better a PEL study can foster community consensus—vital information that can then be shared with decision-makers.

In the case of the Vergennes PEL Study, this means building consensus on which of the alternative routes currently being studied—if any—is recommended for construction and so would need further evaluation during a NEPA study.

A Look Ahead

In upcoming posts, we’ll take a look at two of this year’s primary PEL activities:  conceptual engineering of the alternative routes under evaluation and land use visioning in the communities in northern Addison County.  This promises to be interesting reading!

In the meantime, please reach out to me with questions at any time!  My email is jgish@vhb.com.