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Evaluating the Performance of Environmental Streamlining:
Development of a NEPA baseline for Measuring Continuous Performance

Summary

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Section 1309 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) directs the Department of Transportation to develop and implement a coordinated review process for highway construction projects. The review process would be applied to projects that require either the preparation of environmental impact statements (EISs) or environmental assessments (EAs) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), or the conduct of any other environmental review, analysis, opinion, or issuance of an environmental permit, license, or approval by operation of Federal law. Section 1309 is entitled "Environmental Streamlining", and its charge for a coordinated environmental review process reflects the concern over delays in implementing transportation projects.

The perception that NEPA results in delays and additional costs to the delivery of transportation projects is a common one; projects for which the preparation and approval of EISs have taken several years to complete are well known. Much of the information available concerning the time required to complete this phase of the project development process has come from anecdotal sources, generally focused on individual projects. What has been missing from the discussion about project delay is an analysis of the direct effect that compliance with the requirements of NEPA has on the ultimate schedule and cost of delivering a completed transportation project.

With this comparison in mind, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Louis Berger Group undertook a research study whose purpose was to provide a better understanding of the impacts of the NEPA process on the total time involved in completing a Federal-aid highway or bridge project for use by the public. The results of this study, entitled "Evaluating the Performance of Environmental Streamlining: Development of a NEPA Baseline for Measuring Continuous Performance" examines a) the true schedule implications of the NEPA process upon the total project delivery process; and b) the individual factors influencing the amount of time required for the NEPA process for individual projects.

The descriptive statistics on the length of the NEPA process form the core of the research study's findings. The results of the study indicated that, for the projects in the sample and over the course of approximately 30 years, the average time to complete an EIS for a transportation project was approximately 3.6 years. By comparison, the mean length of time for the completion of the project was approximately 13.1 years. Put another way, for the sample's projects, completion of the NEPA process accounted for approximately 28% of the overall time for project development.

Comparisons were made for the time to complete EISs that were prepared during the three decades examined in the NEPA Baseline study. Analysis of the sample projects indicated that EISs completed in the 1970's required significantly less time to prepare than did those completed in either the 1980s or '90s: for 1970s EISs the mean time for completion was 2.2 years, versus 4.4 and 5.0 years for the 1980s and '90s, respectively.

The Study follows this brief summary, and is organized in the following manner:

Section 1.0 is the Introduction, containing the Background and Purpose of the research effort.

Section 2.0 provides a Summary of Related Research that has been conducted in recent years, specifically in terms of establishing NEPA timeframes and costs.

Section 3.0 provides a detailed discussion of the Research Approach used for this study. Specific aspects of the Research Approach addressed include: an Overview; Description of Data Sources; Limitations of Available Data; Selection of the Research Sample; Data Collection Methodology; and Statistical Analysis Methodology.

Section 4.0, Results of Research, provides the basic findings of the study. These findings include: Descriptive Statistics on the Length of the NEPA Process; Descriptive Statistics on Other Factors Considered; Statistical Relationship of Length of the NEPA Process with Other Factors; and Use of Results as a Baseline for Evaluating Future Environmental Streamlining Initiatives.

Section 5.0 provides a discussion of Conclusions and Recommendations. This section presents a summary of the findings and offers recommendations for continuing related research in the future.

Section 6.0 provides a List of Preparers.

NOTE: A series of Appendices, denoted A through T, that assist in illustrating details of survey sample development, data collection, use of data sources, and statistical analysis of the data are included in the complete copy of the Baseline Study. These appendices, however, have not been included in the web-version of the Study. For details, contact Kreig Larson at 202-366-2056, or by email at kreig.larson@fhwa.dot.gov.


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