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Environmental Review Toolkit

Collaborative Problem Solving: Better and Streamlined Outcomes for All

Guidance on Managing Conflict and Resolving Disputes between State and Federal Agencies During the Transportation Project Development and Environmental Review Process

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This guidance presents strategies for managing conflict and identifying issues that may arise during the transportation project development and environmental process reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and related laws. These strategies should help Federal and state transportation and resource agencies to implement a coordinated environmental review process that streamlines unnecessary delays for highway and transit project construction. This guidance offers options for problem solving and is not an absolute prescription.

The following overarching topics are discussed in this document:

  • Environmental Streamlining: In keeping with the emphasis on early and continuing involvement of all agencies in project planning and environmental review activities, a discussion on conflict management as a way to streamline project implementation while advancing effective and environmentally sound transportation decisions is presented.

  • Broad environmental streamlining strategies for engaging the relevant agencies to identify problems through early coordination: Employing these strategies early in the project development process establishes an effective link to transportation planning. Key strategies include developing agreements that promote interest based problem solving, such as:

    • Interagency memoranda of understanding at the regional and state levels,
    • Programmatic agreements that simplify operating procedures for specified categories of projects including delegation of authority to transportation agencies to conduct environmental reviews for categories of projects, and
    • Environmental streamlining agreements for expedited project reviews.
    These strategies should help to reduce the level of conflict and better manage disputes as they arise.

  • Traditional dispute resolution approaches successfully applied to solving issues that may surface during the NEPA process: These are illustrated in a side-by-side layout of potential disputes and related strategies for minimizing or addressing conflicts.

  • Examples of prototypical procedural alternate dispute resolution frameworks for managing project-level conflict are provided: These examples may be used to guide a structured review process in a way that can help keep everyone on track while addressing complex or controversial projects, or where a history of contention among the relevant agencies exists. Some may find this structured framework an especially useful way to foster constructive consultation and collaborative decision-making. The following elements are included:

    • Project time periods and guiding principles,
    • Meeting protocols and ground rules,
    • Dispute resolution procedures,
    • Procedures for upward referral of disputes, and
    • Procedures for obtaining assistance.
  • The appendices include other useful information that can be used in conjunction with the guidance and illustrate how some of these strategies were applied in specific situations.

This guidance is one element of FHWA's National Dispute Resolution System. The other elements are specific elevation procedures to the USDOT Secretary, the roster of qualified neutral facilitators, and training in the application and use of alternative dispute resolution during project development. A further description of FHWA's four-part system for dispute resolution is also presented.

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