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Senate Bill 743 (SB 743) requires the Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to identify new metrics for measuring and mitigating transportation impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). SB 743 was signed into law in 2013 and began implementation in 2018 via the adoption of the 2018 CEQA Guidelines, which established criteria for determining the significance of transportation impacts (CEQA Guidelines §15064.3). OPR identified Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as the most appropriate criteria for measuring transportation impacts. This creates a shift away from the commonly used Level of Service (LOS) criteria, which measures traffic congestion resulting from a project, to VMT, which measures the amount and distance of vehicle travel attributed to a project. Statewide application of SB 743 will be required beginning July 1, 2020.

CEQA Guidelines §15064.3

Per CEQA Guidelines §15064.3 - Determining the Significance of Transportation Impacts, traffic congestion (i.e. automobile delay) shall not constitute a significant environmental impact. Instead, VMT thresholds should be applied to determine a significant impact. This section presumes that projects located near major transit operations, or projects that reduce VMT in the project area, should have a less than significant transportation impact. A lead agency may elect to qualitatively analyze a project's VMT (including construction-related traffic impacts) in the absence of available quantitative models or methods. A qualitative analysis should evaluate factors such as the availability of transit, proximity to other destinations, etc. The lead agency has discretion to choose the most appropriate methodology to evaluate a project's VMT. The lead agency may elect to implement these new provisions prior to the July 1, 2020 statewide implementation date.

The VMT Metric and Mitigation

The primary issue with the LOS metric is that a rural road with no congestion is considered a “success” in terms of reduced transportation impact, while a congested road in an urban area with dense jobs and housing is considered a “failure.” The purpose of this change is not to limit land use growth but to grow more efficiently. While a project's VMT may be determined in absolute terms, per capita, per household, or in any other measure according to §15064.3, OPR recommends using VMT per capita because it captures growth efficiency. VMT mitigation can include changes in project design (e.g. limited parking supply) or be incentive-based (e.g. transit subsidies), with the primary focus being on reduction in single-automobile dependency resulting from the project.

Implementation

Statewide application of SB 743 will be required beginning July 1, 2020. This date applies to environmental documents that have not yet been published for public review. However, it is important to note that some agencies have already adopted VMT significance criteria, so projects located in those jurisdictions will be required to comply with their respective agency's VMT implementation deadline.

Additional information on SB 743 implementation can be found on OPR's YouTube channel.

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