by Jodi Summers
The California Environmental Quality Act, aka CEQA is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.
CEQA currently measures traffic impacts using the “level of service” metric. In 2017, the method is changing to a “vehicle miles traveled” method.
The new method may allow developers to reduce their environmental impact by reducing the number of vehicles traveling to and from a project.
“The new direction is called VMT, or ‘vehicle miles traveled,’” attorney Scott Birkey, a partner at Cox, Castle & Nicholson told GlobeSt.com. “This is the direction that the state, under some new legislation, has been pushing us to. It is actually a little known secret that there has always been a preference to vehicle miles traveled because it looks at the amount of vehicles traveling for a given area or for a given amount of time. So, [it looks at] how many vehicles are on the road at any given moment. There are all sorts of questions about how to do that modeling. For example, what is the region and how do you put boundaries around the scope of that?”
There are a lot of questions still to be answered, before the new rules go into effect. But, the general idea is that if a developer uses VMT as a way of analysis, then they can change the project so that it mitigates traffic impact.
“As it is currently done under CEQA, you have to measure traffic impacts as part of your environmental quality act. We had been evaluating traffic impacts for years now using a ‘level of service’ metric,” notes Birkey. “This metric essential measures the amount of delay that each vehicle experiences at an intersection or a roadway segment.”
Birkey pointed out that the whole idea of waiting at an intersection as the result of a project makes it so that to mitigate those impacts, a developer might be fixing an intersection that is miles away from the project. It was a way of dealing with spillover effects from the project.
Now it’s all about how many trips a project is generating. It’s a positive paradigm shift, as the new CEQA rules are less about roadway segments miles away from a project and now more about the project itself.
The office of planning and research is still working on the new CEQA guidelines for the implementation of VMT It is not in effect yet and won’t be until they finalize their guidelines, but it is coming and agencies are looking at its implementation.