Categorical Exclusion process

Projects not likely to cause significant adverse environmental impacts are classified as NEPA CEs (National Environmental Policy Act Categorical Exclusions). Use this page to determine your project type and to understand the process for documenting project impacts for NEPA CE approval. Documents prepared under Local Programs (LP) should visit the LP Environmental Services webpage.

View this graphic for an overview of the CE process (172 kb).

Before you start

Read Chapter 400: Environmental Review and Transportation Decision Making of our Environmental Manual to learn more about our NEPA process.

The 2017 Nationwide Permit 23 (NWP 23) removed the Pre-Construction Notice (PCN) requirement on most listed CEs. The Special Regional Condition was changed to allow the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) signed CEs to qualify under NWP 23. A Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) signature is no longer required.

Consult with the Coast Guard (USCG) (123 kb) if your project involves a water crossing to determine USCG jurisdiction and permit requirements. Projects modifying or constructing new bridges or culverts must provide documentation that shows they have coordinated with the USCG prior to approving NEPA.

Preparing a CE

Environmental documentation for NEPA CE level projects occurs in WSDOT’s in-house CE Checklist, known as the Environmental Review Summary and Environmental Classification Summary (ERS-ECS) database.

For access – to the database, supervisors can contact Ashley Carle, Ashley.Carle@wsdot.wa.gov to have staff added as a user. 

ERS – Region and modal staff enter preliminary information into the ERS (found within Project Summary) during the scoping phase of a project. The ERS establishes the environmental baseline for the project and is used to build the project schedule and budget prior to funding. 

ECS – Once a project receives design funding, the ERS is exported into the ECS by using the ‘Copy to ECS’ button. As design issues are resolved, region and modal staff enter information into the appropriate fields in the ‘Environmental Consideration’ section. Region Environmental Managers typically sign these CEs according to the 2015 Programmatic Agreement (pdf 90 kb) with FHWA. The signed ECS Report and supporting documentation serves as the environmental document for CE level projects.

Internal Guidance -- Use the guidance found in the ‘HELP’ index of the database to answer the questions. Use the short 'c' list form (pdf 118 kb) to assess if your project can use the reduced form that requires less information for approval.

External Review -- FHWA conducts an annual audit on a subset of the approved project documents to ensure our level of documentation is appropriate. WSDOT’s Office of Equal Opportunity is part of this audit and reviews how agency staff document the project impacts on disadvantaged populations.

Re-Evaluating CE level projects

CEs may require re-evaluation if:

  1. The project scope has changed.
  2. More than three years has elapsed since the last FHWA action.
  3. New environmental laws or regulations have been enacted.
  4. New Endangered Species Act species have been listed.
  5. The project area has changed.

See our methods for documenting re-evaluations (pdf 76 kb) to determine which re-evaluation method is most appropriate for your project.

Project types and approvals 

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) works with multiple federal agencies to deliver projects. Each agency has their own list of categorically excluded project types and requirements for approving the NEPA CE document.

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) CEs

FHWA CEs are listed in 23 CFR 771.117. CEs are documented through our internal ECS database.

The 2015 CE Programmatic Agreement (pdf 90 kb) with FHWA allows WSDOT to approve all CE NEPA document for FHWA funded projects, unless WSDOT requests approval from FHWA due to unusual circumstances.

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) CEs 

See sections (c) and (d) in 23 CFR 771.118 to determine the appropriate category for your project.

NEPA documentation for project types on the 'c' list can be signed by WSDOT. Project types on the 'd' list require review and approval by FTA.

Visit FTA's website to find their guidance on assessing CE level project impacts to fulfill NEPA requirements.

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) CEs

Visit FRA’s website to find their guidance on assessing CE level project impacts to fulfill NEPA requirements.