What is a Planning Study?

MDT developed the Planning Process in an effort to better coordinate and link the planning process with the NEPA/MEPA process. The Planning Study is developed strictly as a planning project and not a design or construction project. A Planning Study evaluates safety, environmental and geometric concerns of a transportation corridor and identifies needs and possible improvement options to address those needs. Cost, availability of funding, and phasing possibilities are taken into consideration.

What does a "pre-NEPA/MEPA Planning Study" mean?

NEPA is the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA is a federal law that outlines policies and goals to be complied with to assist community officials in making decisions, taking into account the human and natural environment and the community's need for safe and efficient transportation. Modeled after NEPA, MEPA is the Montana Environmental Policy Act, and it only applies to state agencies and state actions. The NEPA/MEPA process also ensures that environmental information is available to the community before decisions are made and carried out.

The Maclay Bridge Planning Study is a pre-NEPA/MEPA study that includes a high level environmental scan of potential issues. The results of the study may be used to determine the level of environmental documentation to be used prior to initiation of the NEPA/MEPA process and project implementation activities. The Planning Process allows for early planning-level coordination with the public, resource and other agencies, and will develop specific factors that can be used in the subsequent environmental review process if projects are moved forward from the study. The planning study is designed to help facilitate a smooth and efficient transition from transportation planning to project development/environmental review.

For additional information, refer to MDT's corridor study process.

Who conducted this study?

MDT, in partnership with Missoula County, conducted this study. The Helena office of Robert Peccia & Associates (RPA) assisted these partners in completing the planning effort.

What steps were taken during the Corridor Study?

MDT established several steps that were followed to produce an effective planning study. These included:

  1. Develop planning study work plan
    The planning team assessed the complexity of issues within the study area and the level of effort required to address the issues.

  2. Develop existing and projected conditions report
    The report analyzed existing and projected conditions, incorporated findings from an environmental scan, and considered local community vision, goals and objectives. Perceived issues, known impacts and potential mitigation opportunities were documented as part of the report.

  3. Identify, issues, impacts, goals, and screening criteria
    The planning team considered comments from local governments, resource agencies, and the community at-large to develop screening criteria and objectives for improvement options analysis. The screening criteria were related to the identified needs, issues, impacts, goals, costs, and funding and resources available.

  4. Determine improvement options advanced and not advanced
    The planning team analyzed each improvement option (including no-build) using the identified screening criteria, leading to a selection of preliminary improvement options advanced and not advanced.

  5. Recommend improvement options
    The planning team recommended a complete package of improvement option(s) that addressed the needs and objectives identified. Potential impacts and mitigation opportunities were identified.

  6. Prepare draft planning study report
    Based on key findings, needs, screening criteria, and recommendations, the planning team developed a draft planning study report. Consultation and comments on the draft report were obtained from local governments and resource agencies, as well as through community involvement.

  7. Make recommendations
    The planning team finalized the planning study report. This Planning Study may transition forward to implementation.

What happens next?

The Study is developed strictly as a planning study and not a design or environmental review project. Future steps, if any, will be determined by Missoula County.