Caltrans Assesses Internal Business Practices and Identifies Process Changes
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) expects the annual number of draft and final Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) in the state to continue to increase in the next three years and is looking to effective project management to aid them with timely project delivery. In order to streamline the environmental review process in California, Caltrans has assessed its internal business practices and identified process changes that can advance environmental streamlining. Caltrans has partnered with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) California Division to develop and implement these process changes in order to improve project delivery, reduce costs, and maintain environmental protection standards.
The streamlining plan developed has several components, including: 1) increasing Caltrans' legal staff in order to improve the internal legal sufficiency review of environmental documents and to provide more consultation during project and environmental document development; 2) establishing an internal environmental document quality control program; 3) developing and maintaining an Internet-based tracking system to record the movement of key environmental work products between Caltrans, FHWA, and involved regulatory agencies; and, 4) delegating more authority to Caltrans under a programmatic agreement for Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. In addition, the FHWA California Division is committing to a 30-day review time for EISs.
Internal Quality Control Program
Caltrans is implementing an internal Quality Control Program with standardized peer, technical specialist, supervisor, and legal review and technical editing. The new program will ensure that Caltrans consistently submits high quality environmental documents to FHWA and regulatory agencies, reducing review time and streamlining project delivery.
As part of the Quality Control Program, Caltrans is expanding its legal staff; now lawyers will be available for consultation during project and environmental document development. As a result, Caltrans believes that the legal sufficiency review of documents will vastly improve. Caltrans and the FHWA California Division are also developing standard environmental document formats and are publishing documents electronically to speed distribution and reduce publishing costs.
In February 2002, Caltrans districts finalized District Environmental Document Quality Control Plans that detail how they will meet the new statewide quality control requirements. All Caltrans Districts now prepare environmental documents according to these plans. Caltrans is currently reviewing these District plans and developing an internal audit program.
Formal Tracking of Environmental Work Products
Caltrans and the FHWA California Division launched a prototype Internet-based system in September 2001 to track documents and consultation requests for review and action by Caltrans, FHWA, and involved regulatory agencies. The new system will allow Caltrans and FHWA to identify process bottlenecks, keep documents and approvals on track, and improve project delivery. In addition, the system will provide information on resource and time requirements for the environmental review process. This will also help in the scoping of projects and the setting of realistic project schedules. No major software or hardware purchases or upgrades were needed. The system is now being tested on a pilot basis and will be deployed statewide this summer.
Programmatic Delegation of Section 106 Authority to the State
The numerous consultation and review steps in the Section 106 process can often lead to project delays. To save time, Caltrans and the FHWA California Division are developing a Section 106 programmatic agreement that will allow Caltrans to consult with the California State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) on behalf of FHWA regarding project scopes and determinations of eligibility, no effect, and no adverse effect. Delegation of this Section 106 authority to Caltrans will allow FHWA staff to focus on identifying measures that avoid, minimize, and mitigate adverse effects and on making Section 4(f) determinations. The SHPO and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation are currently reviewing the proposed programmatic agreement, which will be finalized later this year. Several states have similar Section 106 programmatic agreements in place, including Indiana and Vermont.