NEPA and Transportation Decisionmaking
The combined requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 and Title 23 United States Code create a challenging position for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in carrying out its transportation mission. Title 23 restricts Federal funding to those projects that meet certain engineering, environmental, and safety requirements. Under NEPA, as the lead Federal agency and "owner" of the resultant environmental document, FHWA assumes responsibility for the integrity of the NEPA process.
As lead Federal agency in the NEPA process, FHWA is responsible for scoping, inviting cooperating agencies, developing consensus among a wide range of stakeholders with diverse interests, resolving conflict, and ensuring that quality transportation decisions are fully explained in the environmental document. These responsibilities force the FHWA to balance transportation needs, costs, environmental resources, safety, and public input in order to arrive at objective and responsible transportation decisions.
The FHWA Environmental Policy Statement stresses the full involvement of all partners:
Effective communication is critical to successful implementation of FHWA's transportation mission and environmental policy. This has become increasingly evident as we have worked with our partners to fuse the environmental and planning processes and to merge the FHWA, NEPA, and related project development procedures with other Federal, State, and local requirements. We must continually strive to communicate our commitment to protect and enhance the environment. We must increase our partnerships with private enterprise on infrastructure investments, including transit and Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) initiatives. Bringing together the multifaceted and diverse interests in an open and cooperative process creates a synergy that will produce positive and effective solutions.
It is FHWA policy to:
- Pursue communication and collaboration with Federal, state, and local partners in the transportation and environmental communities, including other modal administrations within the U.S. DOT.
- Seek new partnerships with tribal governments, businesses, transportation and environmental interests groups, resource and regulatory agencies, affected neighborhoods, and the public.
- Ensure that those historically underserved by the transportation system, including minority and low-income populations, are included in outreach.
- Actively involve partners and all affected parties in an open, cooperative, and collaborative process, beginning at the earliest planning stages and continuing through project development, construction, and operations.
- Ensure the development of comprehensive and cooperative public involvement programs during statewide and metropolitan planning and project development activities.
Effective interagency coordination is the key to achieving environmentally responsible transportation decisions. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations introduced the concepts of "lead agency" and "cooperating agency" to help streamline the environmental process, eliminate duplication in Federal, state, and local procedures, and integrate NEPA requirements with other Federal environmental review and consultation requirements.
SAFETEA-LU further defined the role of agencies involved with a transportation project receiving Federal funds. The SAFETEA-LU Environmental Review Process Final Guidance, issued November 15th, 2006, defines the role of Lead Agencies, Participating Agencies, and Cooperating Agencies. The purpose of the environmental streamlining provisions are to coordinate Federal agency involvement in major highway projects under the NEPA process and to address concerns relating to delays in implementing projects, unnecessary duplication of effort, and added costs often associated with the conventional process for reviewing and approving surface transportation projects.
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