On August 6, 2014, the California Office of Planning and Research issued a new draft guideline that could fundamentally alter the way in which transportation impacts are analyzed for purposes of review under the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"). Under the new proposed Section 15064.3 of the State CEQA Guidelines, transportation impacts of projects would no longer be measured on the basis of vehicle delay but would instead be measured on the basis of the vehicle miles traveled that the project generates and on the project's effects on transit, non-motorized travel, and traveler safety.

Adoption of the Proposed New Guideline Would Result in a Significant Change in Established Traffic Study Methodology

The new draft guideline is designed to comply with State Senate Bill 743, which was enacted in 2013. SB 743 directs the Office of Planning and Research ("OPR") to develop new guidelines for the analysis of transportation related impacts and specifies that automobile delay shall not be considered a "significant effect" on the environment for purposes of CEQA review. This marks a significant change in the way traffic studies have routinely been conducted. Under the current guidelines, traffic studies typically consider roadway volume-to-capacity ratios based on levels of service related to vehicle delay at impacted intersections, and mitigation of such impacts generally consists of roadway improvements such as widening and restriping to create additional lanes and/or adding or reconfiguring traffic signals. According to the OPR, such measures tend to be traffic inducing by creating additional capacity that is rapidly filled, leading to additional volumes of traffic and associated impacts on noise, air quality, and greenhouse gas emissions. By designating vehicle miles traveled in place of levels of service as the principal metric for assessing transportation impacts, the new guideline is intended to reduce motorized vehicle travel by discouraging sprawl and promoting infill projects, and to address traffic congestion by promoting alternative modes of transportation and safety measures designed to protect the users of non-motorized alternatives such as walking and cycling.

Thus, under the proposed guideline, projects that are located within a half mile of major transit stops or stops along high quality transit corridors would generally be considered to have less than significant transportation impacts, as would projects that would result in a net decrease in vehicle miles traveled, regardless of whether such projects cause traffic congestion. Lead agencies would still have to evaluate the effects of a project, including induced congestion, on other environmental factors, such as noise and air quality, and those effects would have to be mitigated if they are deemed to be significant.

The Proposed Guideline Would Operate Prospectively

The draft new guideline, if adopted, would for the most part operate prospectively, so that ongoing environmental review of currently proposed projects would not be affected. It would apply immediately, however, to projects that are located within a half mile of major transit stops or stops along high quality transit corridors. The comment period on the proposed guideline will extend until October 10, 2014.