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National Environmental Streamlining Initiatives

Successful Efforts in Environmental Streamlining
Eight Case Studies in Project Development: An Introduction

Background

Since the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), federal agencies have been required to consider the potential environmental consequences of their actions, and to bring the public and other stakeholders into their decision making process. In a piece of legislation that was barely three pages in length, NEPA has been critical to meeting the environmental goals this Nation has set for itself.

Despite the many positive attributes of NEPA and its requirements, there has emerged an increasingly vocal criticism that the process has become unwieldy and burdensome, resulting in frequent delays in the development and completion of important projects designed to improve the safety and operating conditions of a region's transportation system. *In recognition of the regulatory complexities and the potential for improvement in implementing the NEPA process, a national initiative for introducing "environmental streamlining" into the process was included in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21, P.L. 105-178) in 1998. Section 1309 of that Act directs the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to "develop and implement a coordinated environmental review process for highway construction projects." This requirement is especially applicable to projects for which an environmental impact statement (EIS) is to be prepared pursuant to NEPA.

Basic Elements of the TEA-21 Environmental Streamlining Requirements

  • DOT shall develop and implement a coordinated environmental review process for highway construction projects requiring a NEPA EIS;
  • For each project, the coordinated environmental review process shall identify all applicable Federal agencies to be involved in the process;
  • For each project, the coordinated environmental review process shall identify all time limitations and concurrent review requirements;
  • For each project, the coordinated environmental review process shall identify consistency of review time periods with CEQ requirements and any extension of review periods for good cause;
  • Opportunity for dispute resolution between agencies; and
  • Opportunity for participation by State agencies

In the case of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), environmental streamlining procedures have been implemented for federally-funded highway projects on an ad hoc basis for a number of years, even before the official introduction of the concept in TEA-21 in 1998. The procedures that have been utilized in advancing projects through the NEPA process have varied, to some extent, by former FHWA region or by FHWA divisional office, or even from project to project. However, even on an ad hoc basis, the FHWA projects that have been most successful in advancing through the entire NEPA process in a timely fashion can be particularly informative and useful for future instruction and application on other projects.

Identification and Development of Case Studies

FHWA has contracted with The Louis Berger Group, Inc. of East Orange, New Jersey, to identify and prepare a total of eight case studies that highlight successful measures used to advance a highway project through the NEPA process. The case studies focus upon projects with the following basic characteristics:

  • A full EIS was prepared pursuant to the requirements of NEPA;
  • The length of time between the issuance of the Notice of Intent (NOI) in the Federal Register and the signing by FHWA of the project's Record of Decision (ROD) was 33 months or less1; and
  • The ROD was issued between the years 1998 and 2000.

Projects to be included as case studies were restricted to those for which a full EIS was required for two reasons:

  • Environmental streamlining measures have the greatest applicability in EIS projects, which normally take longer than projects requiring other levels of environmental documentation pursuant to NEPA; and
  • A fairly complete listing of EIS projects was already available, whereas such listings were not available for environmental assessment (EA) or categorical exclusion (CE) projects.

A maximum 33-month NEPA EIS process was also selected for two reasons:

  • It is well below the EIS average mean length of 3.6 years for all FHWA projects completed since 1970, as determined from earlier FHWA research;2 and
  • There was found to be a reasonable number of example projects for consideration which met the NEPA time criterion.

Finally, the 1998 — 2000 EIS completion date criterion was used because FHWA's database, at the time of case study identification and selection, consisted only of those years. The listing of EISs completed during those years was based on an annual survey of FHWA divisional offices.3

An initial list of fifteen potential case study projects was identified. Upon further research and analysis, that list was narrowed down to the final eight that best exemplified measures and techniques that were used to streamline the process, and for which there were identifiable lessons learned that could be applicable for other projects as well. The final eight case studies are also well distributed geographically, representing a total of six of the nine former FHWA regions in the country.

Eight Case Studies Demonstrating Successful Efforts in Environmental Streamlining

  1. Southeast Corridor Multi-Modal Transportation Project, Denver, Colorado;
    Transportation Expansion (T-REX) Multi-Modal Project
  2. SR 423 (John Young Parkway) from SR 50 to SR 434, Orange County, Florida;
    SR423 (John Young Parkway)
  3. US 113 Planning Study, Eastern Shore, Maryland;
    US 113 Planning Study
  4. Airport Parkway and MS 25 Connectors Project, Hinds and Rankin Counties, Mississippi;
    Airport Parkway & MS 25 Connectors Project
  5. Route 19 Missouri River Bridge Project, Gasconade and Montgomery Counties, Missouri;
    Route 19 Missouri River Bridge Project
  6. US 95 Improvement Project, Clark County, Nevada;
    US 95 Improvement Project
  7. Judd Road Connector, Oneida County, New York;
    Judd Road Connector
  8. Interstate 29 Reconstruction, Fargo, North Dakota.
    Interstate 29 Reconstruction

Each case study has been prepared following a uniform format, including: an introduction to the project; discussions of project purpose, how project development advanced through NEPA, the preferred alternative, other alternatives considered, environmental and other issues, and current status; a summary of lessons learned; and a list of references who are knowledgeable about the project and who provided input to the development of the particular case study. Each of the eight case studies is presented separately elsewhere within this location.

Summary of Lessons Learned

Recurring "Lessons Learned" for Effective Environmental Streamlining

  • Capitalize on extensive project development and analysis performed in studies prepared prior to initiating the NEPA process
  • Initiate NEPA-type studies in advance of the formal NEPA process
  • Promote interagency coordination and cooperation via formal or informal memoranda of understanding
  • Implement early and continuous public involvement programs in an aggressive fashion
  • Pursue high-level political support for the project
  • Develop and utilize State-initiated streamlining programs
  • Develop any of a variety of procedures for facilitating document preparation and review

The case studies illustrate that the NEPA EIS process can flow at an expedited rate for a variety of project types and in a number of diverse project settings. The outcome of each study is relayed in a "Lessons Learned" section, providing a learning tool for future project managers. A review of the "Lessons Learned" for each study indicates a number of recurring procedures and techniques that have proven effective in streamlining the actual NEPA EIS process. In some instances, the procedures and techniques that were identified as being effective were only applied on one or two projects while, in other cases, they were applied in a similar fashion on all or most of the projects. What is most interesting about these procedures and techniques is that they are rather common-sense in approach and do not involve any particularly cutting-edge technology. Therefore, it is likely that many of these procedures and techniques could potentially be employed on other projects as well. Of course, it may be appropriate, or even necessary, to refine these general procedures and techniques to fit the specific needs of each individual project.

Eight Case Studies Demonstrating Successful Efforts in
Environmental Streamlining
Timeline for Case Studies (months)
PROJECTS 1 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
Southeast Corridor Multi-Modal Transportation, CO 25
SR 423 (John Young Parkway) from SR 50 to SR 434, FL 28
US 113 Planning Study, MD 15
Airport Parkway and MS 25 Connectors, MS 10
Route 19 Missouri River Bridge, MO 24
US 95 Improvement, NV 33
Judd Road Connector, NY 31
Interstate 29 Reconstruction, ND 29


Locations of Eight Case Studies

Map of the U.S. with arrows to the 8 states where the case studies originated.  The eight states are: Colorado, North Dakota, Missouri, New York, Maryland, Florida, Mississippi, and Nevada.

Notes

1FHWA recognizes the issuance of the NOI and the approval of the ROD as the start- and end-points of the NEPA process for a project.

2Evaluating the Performance of Environmental Streamlining: Development of a NEPA Baseline for Measuring Continuous Performance, prepared by The Louis Berger Group, Inc. for the Federal Highway Administration, January 2001.

List of Preparers

Kreig Larson, FHWA Project Coordinator
Kenneth J. Hess, AICP, The Louis Berger Group, Inc., Project Manager
Erica D'Avanzo, The Louis Berger Group, Inc., Environmental Planner
Matthew Stanley, The Louis Berger Group, Inc., Principal Environmental Planner
Matthew Sumpter, The Louis Berger Group, Inc., Planner

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