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Successes in Stewardship
Monthly Newsletter
August 2001

Pennsylvania State Route (SR) 119 South Improvement Project

Photo of SR-119 Bridge Crossing Blacklick Creek Channel
SR-119 crossing the Blacklick Creek channel.

Overview of Success

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PENNDOT), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and their project team successfully streamlined the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Section 404 Permit for the State Route (SR) 119 South Improvement Project. By using NEPA process improvements and implementing alternative media forms, PENNDOT completed their EIS in 22 months. In addition, by encouraging early and active public and interagency involvement, PENNDOT improved coordination, reduced review time, and avoided delays.

PENNDOT's success demonstrates that projects can meet transportation needs, be completed in shorter timeframes, and protect and enhance the environment. By widening the highway instead of building a new bypass, PENNDOT will save forest land. Instead of straightening an impacted stream, PENNDOT will buy adjacent property so the stream can continue to meander, protecting fish migration habitat. PENNDOT will also replace five acres of impacted wetlands and develop a pedestrian/bike path, a Park & Ride facility, and three noise walls.

Implementing Technology and NEPA Process Improvements

Traditional EISs are comparable to telephone books in length, expensive to produce and distribute, and difficult to read. In response, PENNDOT referenced most technical support data, bulleted text, and portrayed multiple environmental features in color maps, conveying information clearly and in less space. In addition, Pennsylvania is the first state to develop a CD-ROM version of its EIS. All of these improvements helped the participating agencies and the public to easily get the information they needed to address their concerns and review permit actions.

Early and Active Public Involvement

Early and active public involvement helped address community concerns and accelerate the NEPA process. Fearing road widening would impact their property, some community members wanted a bypass built instead. To better understand community concerns, PENNDOT recruited local residents and businesses to participate in a Community Advisory Committee (CAC). The CAC evaluated design concepts and took project plans to other community members for comment. After reviewing alternatives themselves, the CAC found that a bypass cost more than road widening, affected numerous properties, and impacted state game and recreation lands. The CAC concurred with widening the highway, and then reached out to other groups in the community by inviting them to meetings and distributing information.

Interagency Communication and Coordination

In Pennsylvania, Federal and state resource and transportation agencies attend monthly transportation meetings. Over time, representatives have gotten to know each other as people rather than agencies with different agendas. This trust and cooperation facilitated the use of concurrent electronic review and resulted in quicker permit actions for SR-119. "Everyone worked well together and respected each other's opinions and abilities," explains Lynn Bortel of the FHWA. "Thus there was little or no duplication of effort." PENNDOT's efforts to coordinate with Federal and state agencies reflect its tradition of broad-based decision-making for transportation projects. Pennsylvania has used its experience through participation in the Mid-Atlantic Transportation and Environment Streamlining Task Force (MATE) to help develop regional environmental streamlining approaches. The MATE is comprised of transportation, natural resources, planning, and other state and Federal agencies from Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Lessons Learned

Transportation projects can meet transportation needs, be completed in shorter timeframes, and comply with NEPA.

Alternative media forms — such as CD-ROMs and color maps depicting multiple environmental features — facilitate shorter and clearer Environmental Impact Statements (EISs.) Agencies and the public are more apt to understand and use these, lessening permit review time and hastening the EIS process.

Completing an EIS involves many agencies with seemingly diverse agendas. NEPA process improvements — such as early interagency coordination and concurrent electronic project reviews — foster better interagency communication and reduce review time.

Never underestimate the time needed for building trust and good working relationships. Early and rigorous agency involvement and communication build respect, increase cooperation, and improve accountability.

Early and active public involvement is critical in order to ensure community concerns are addressed early in the NEPA process, avoiding potential disagreements and delays.

Project Summary

The $53 million SR-119 South Improvement Project will widen an 8.3-mile section of two-lane SR-119 between SR-56 in Homer City and the U.S. Route 22 Interchange near Blairsville in western Pennsylvania. Currently, access is poor to SR-119, leading to many accidents. Coal trucks make hundreds of trips daily to a local power plant, impacting road quality. The purposes of the project are to relieve congestion and improve safety by building new intersections, widening the roadway, and improving traffic signals.

Anticipating a long period of environmental review due to the project's large scale and public controversy involving the highway widening impacting residential and commercial properties, FHWA and PENNDOT saw an opportunity to test their new Concise EIS Task Force Guidelines. The environmental streamlining goals of the project were to reduce delay, create a concise EIS and companion CD-ROM, involve resource agencies and the public early in the NEPA process, and protect and enhance the environment. PENNDOT completed their EIS, which might have normally taken anywhere from six to ten years, in less than two years. PENNDOT, working with consultants KCI Technologies, Inc., began the EIS and Section 404 Permit application in July 1997. The final EIS was completed in October 1998, and the Record of Decision was received in March 1999. Highway construction will begin in August 2001 and end in 2003 or 2004.

Because of its success, the SR-119 South Improvement Project Team has won several awards, including the FHWA 2001 Environmental Excellence Award in Environmental Streamlining, the Consulting Engineers Council of Pennsylvania 1999 Honor Award for Studies, and the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) 1999 Trailblazer Award for Quality Team Achievement.

Calendar of Events

Environmental Streamlining Training Workshop for Army Corps of
Engineers Regulatory TEA — 21 Coordinators

Colorado Springs, CO
September 11-13, 2001


Contact Information

Lynn Bortel
Environmental Protection Specialist
FHWA
228 Walnut Street, Room 536
Harrisburgh, PA 17101-1720
Phone: (717) 221-3442 Fax: (717) 221-3494
E-mail: lynn.bortel@fhwa.dot.gov

Successes in Stewardship is brought to you by the United States Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration Office of NEPA Facilitation.

For more information on environmental streamlining, please visit: www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/strmlng/index.asp.

The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Names appear herein because they are considered essential to the objective of the document

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