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Visual Quality

Visual Quality
Aerial photograph of a project showing the study area for a Visual Quality Analysis


A Visual Impacts Analysis must be completed for all projects that change the roadside character, including changes in: 

  • Horizontal or vertical road alignment
  • Expansion of the roadway
  • New intersections or interchanges
  • Ferry terminal improvements
  • Increased lighting
  • Removal of considerable vegetation. This will vary by location. Consult with the Region Landscape Architect or HQ Roadside and Site Development office for Regions without a Landscape Architect.

Right-Sizing the Visual Analysis

Environmental Document Analysis Documentation within Supporting documents Minimization
and Mitigative Measures 
Categorical Exclusion/Exemption None needed None needed None needed Apply roadside policy and corridor architectural standards to avoid and minimize impacts.
Documented Categorical Exclusion (DCE)/SEPA Checklist Analyze per questions in ECS form ECS, Section 15 Visual Quality (Aesthetics/Light & Glare) None unless additional documentation is needed to justify that there are no significant impacts to visual quality/aesthetics. Apply roadside policy and corridor architectural standards to avoid and minimize impacts.
Environmental Assessment (EA) Analyze per questions in ECS form EA – summarize impacts and mitigative measures within EA document. If there are no potential impacts to visual quality, none needed

If there are potential impacts to visual quality, analyze impacts using VIA ratings sheet. Use Key Views and their locations, rating of key views with explanation of impacts within text of EA. Include supporting data in Appendix.
Apply roadside policy and corridor architectural standards to avoid and minimize impacts.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) Analyze per questions in ECS form EIS – summarize impacts and mitigative measures within EIS. For more complex projects, a separate visual discipline report may be needed. If there are no potential impacts to visual quality, none needed

If there are potential impacts to visual quality, analyze impacts using VIA ratings sheet. Use Key Views and their locations, rating of key views with explanation of impacts included within text of EIS. Include supporting data in Appendix.
Apply roadside policy and corridor architectural standards to avoid and minimize impacts.


The methodology for visual impact assessments can be found within:

  • Visual Impact Assessment for Highway Projects, FHWA Publication No. FHWA-HI-88-054 (pdf, 3.6mb)
    This field guide, which is now out of print, is available here in pdf format. It is intended to help individuals who prepare or review the coverage of visual impacts in environmental assessments or environmental impact statements for highway projects.
  • WSDOT Visual Impact Assessment Methodology (pdf, 254kb)
    This document can be cited or linked to document the visual impact assessment methodology used by WSDOT.

The following links will access a checklist and matrices for use with Visual Impact Assessments.


Visual Discipline Report Examples


For more information on Visual Impact Assessment, contact:
Sandy Salisbury, PLA
Phone: (360) 705-7245
E-mail: SalisbS@wsdot.wa.gov

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