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Florida's Interchange Access Request Process


The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have a substantial investment in limited access facilities, particularly the interstate system. Any proposal to change the access to these facilities potentially can have an adverse impact on their ability to effectively and safely accommodate travel demand.

To ensure any proposed change in access to the interstate system is acceptable, an Interchange Access Request or IAR must be submitted. An IAR shows that a proposed interchange improvement is Safety, Operational and Engineering viable. When an IAR is deemed necessary, it is required the document follow the FDOT's Interchange Access Request User's Guide or IAR U G. The IAR U G is available on the FDOT's Systems Implementation Office website and a link is provided through the Reference Material Section of this Portal.

The purpose of the IAR U G is to provide guidance on how to prepare documents that support requests for new or modified access to the Florida Interstate Highway System, Florida Turnpike Enterprise and non-interstate limited access facilities on the State Highway System.

Close coordination between stakeholders at various stages of the IAR process is necessary for a successful acceptance of the IAR. The various stakeholders involved in the IAR process include the Requestor, District Interchange Review Coordinator, State Interchange Review Coordinator, Systems Management Administrator and the FHWA.

For most IARs, this first step is done by developing a Methodology Letter of Understanding or MLOU. The purpose of the MLOU is to document the procedures to be followed in the IAR development and mitigate risk. The MLOU is intended to define the project's type of IAR report and establishes analysis assumptions and traffic analysis approach required to prepare the IAR.

The IAR types are an Interchange Justification Report, Interchange Modification Report and Interchange Operational Analysis Report. An Interchange Justification Report is required when the proposed action is intended to provide new access to a limited access facility. Such action requires the highest level of analysis and documentation to justify the need for and operational impacts of the proposed access.

An Interchange Modification Report is required for a proposed action to modify configuration or travel patterns at an existing interchange. The extent and complexity of the proposed modification will determine the level of analysis and documentation required.

A Systems Interchange Modification Report may be needed when a series of closely spaced interchanges that are operationally interrelated are analyzed for an IAR.

An Interchange Operational Analysis Report is prepared to document traffic and safety analysis of minor modifications to the existing access points that do not change existing interchange configuration or travel patterns.

For an IAR to be acceptable, it must adequately address the two FHWA Policy Points. These Policy Points are from the FHWA policy statement entitled "Access to the Interstate System." The safety analysis performed in the IAR must follow the IAR U G Safety Analysis Guidance.

The IAR approval process consists of two parts: 1. The determination of the Safety, Operational and Engineering acceptability and 2. The approval of the NEPA document covers the environmental requirements for the proposed improvements.

The major steps involved in the Safety, Operational and Engineering preparation of an IAR and its relationship to NEPA is depicted in Figure 1-1 of the IAR U G. The NEPA phase can either start after the determination of Safety Operational and Engineering acceptability or be developed concurrently. However, the Safety Operational and Engineering acceptability must be obtained prior to NEPA approval. The Safety, Operational and Engineering acceptability of the IAR approval process shall be determined by FHWA through the process outlined in FHWA's Interstate Access Policy or by the FDOT Chief Engineer through an expedited approval process, as agreed upon in the Programmatic Agreement between FHWA and FDOT.

The Programmatic Agreement allows FDOT to review and approve certain types of IARs. The Programmatic Agreement expedites the IAR review process and streamlines the project delivery process. Under the Programmatic Agreement, the FDOT Chief Engineer is authorized to determine the Safety, Operational and Engineering acceptability for certain types of IARs. Further guidance on the Programmatic Agreement and the type of IARs included in the Programmatic Agreement are discussed in the IAR U G.

The acceptance authority for a Programmatic IAR is the FDOT Chief Engineer. The Systems Management Administrator and the District Interchange Review Coordinator must approve the IAR before it is routed to the Chief Engineer. For Interchange Justification Reports, the Assistant Secretary for Strategic Development also will sign. FHWA will then concur with the Chief Engineer's determination of Safety, Operational, and Engineering acceptability.

Projects on the Florida Interstate Highway System that are not included in the Programmatic Agreement will be fully reviewed and approved by the FHWA Florida Division Office.

FHWA is not involved in IAR projects that are on non-interstate and toll facilities. Acceptance authorities for non-interstate and toll IARs are summarized in Table 1-3 and Table 1-4 of the IAR U G.

Occasionally following an IAR approval, a re-evaluation of an IAR shall be performed. A re-evaluation is performed to document compliance with the state and federal requirements and processes as the result of changes in the project since the approval of the original IAR. Re-evaluations are required for one or more of the following conditions: change in an approved design concept, significant change in conditions such as traffic characteristics, land use type, or environment, or failure of an IAR to progress to the construction phase within three years of approval.

For all IAR re-evaluations it is required traffic validation be performed. Existing and future traffic volumes should be validated prior to their use in the analysis of the alternatives in the IAR re-evaluation. The intent of the validation effort is to ensure that the traffic volumes available from the original approved IAR still reflect the project area's travel conditions and pattern. If the traffic validation exercise reveals that the existing or future forecasts from the original approved IAR are not valid, then a methodology needs to be developed in order to update the traffic.

For additional information regarding the Florida IAR process, please refer to the IAR U G available on the FDOT Systems Implementation Website. A link to the IAR U G is provided through the Reference Material Section of this Portal.