Environmental Review Toolkit
Planning and Environment Linkages

CASE STUDIES

Mid-Atlantic Transportation and Environment (MATE) Task Force

The Mid-Atlantic Transportation and Environment (MATE) Task Force was formed of State and Federal transportation and environmental agencies from the Mid-Atlantic Region (including Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) in order to cooperatively set goals and develop a systematic approach to address the streamlining provisions set forth in TEA-21, as well as to improve communication and cooperation between the transportation and environmental agencies. Beginning with an Executive Summit of State and Federal executives, a cooperative agreement was signed that directed staff on specific streamlining goals and objectives. To meet these, an interagency Task Force was formed of managers and staff. Through a series of meetings, the Task Force developed a revised integrated environmental review process.

Streamlining Process
Framework
Mid Atlantic Regional
Model

MATES created an 11-step process framework-- beginning with planning and scoping and ending with project implementation and monitoring-- that states can use to fit individual project development processes into the framework.

Key Features

The task force developed an 11-step process framework that is specific enough to be effectively implemented, but flexible enough for states to fit individual project development processes into its framework:

  1. Transportation Planning Proces
  2. Scoping
  3. Purpose & Need
  4. Alternatives Development
  5. Detailed Alternatives Analysis & Draft NEPA Document
  6. Identification of Preferred Alternative & Conceptual Mitigation Plan
  7. Final NEPA Document
  8. Record of Decision
  9. Project Design & Final Minimization & Mitigation Coordination
  10. Final Permit Decision
  11. Project Implementation & Monitoring

Departing from and improving upon the NEPA/404 merger process, the MATE process

  • Created a linkage between the transportation planning process and the project development process through improved coordination between MPOs and resource and regulatory agencies;
  • Developed concurrent coordination of Section 106, Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and Clean Water Act Section 404 during the NEPA process; and
  • Obtained US Army Corps of Engineers concurrence on the preferred alternative and opportunity to obtain a Corps permit decision at the ROD.

Just the "process" of Task Force members meeting to develop the streamlining process inspired stronger interagency relationships that help to improve understanding among agencies and, ultimately, reduce project delays. The trusting relationships, coupled with the changes enacted through the process, fulfilled the goals of the Cooperative Agreement.

Starting Point

TEA-21 provisions inspired the initial streamlining undertaking. Prior to the MATES effort, many Mid-Atlantic states were following the 1992 Integrated NEPA/404 process. The MATES process was attractive because it provided the opportunity to further enrich the streamlining process. Although the merger of the NEPA process and the 404 permitting process had enhanced project completion, improvements (such as the addition of more resource agencies with greater interaction as well as a greater number of mutually agreed upon decision points) would further perfect the process. For instance, different from the NEPA/404 process, the MATE Task Force developed a link between transportation planning process and the project development process through improved coordination between the Metropolitan Planning Organizations and the resource and regulatory agencies in Step 1, Transportation Planning.

Motivation

The success of NEPA/404 process was a motivating factor. A task force for the NEPA/404 process was already in place, and those professional connections and relationships were ready to be strengthened and built upon. Additionally, both top-level policy makers and mid-level managers recognized the Federal impetus for further streamlining. Rather than adapt to a policy or process imposed from the outside, task force members preferred to figuring out their own "organic" streamlining process suited to their own conditions.

Accomplishments

  • Executive Summit
  • Cooperative Agreement & Amendment
  • MATE Task Force
  • 11-Step Process
  • An Environmental Streamlining Process Guide that includes an introduction to the MATE project; detailed descriptions of the Process Steps; a Tool Catalog; and appendices explaining acronyms, definitions, copies of cooperative agreements, and the Mid Atlantic Transportation and Environmental Streamlining Framework.

How Change Was Achieved

In January of 1999, State and federal transportation and environmental agencies from the mid-Atlantic region, including Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia, gathered at an Executive Summit to discuss the feasibility of streamlining the environmental review process for transportation project development. The Executive Summit provided a platform for the highest levels of agency leadership to begin a dialogue on issues of mutual concern, including communication about cumulative impacts and sprawl, to explore the opportunities afforded by TEA-21, and to detail the direction they would provide staff to address streamlining.

Interagency Communication and Coordination in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PENNDOT) used its MATE Experience to help develop environmental streamlining approaches for that state. 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 reviews and resulted in quicker permit actions.

For example, PENNDOT, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), FHWA, and others 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 the EIS in 22 months. By encouraging early and active public and interagency involvement, PENNDOT improved coordination, reduced review time, and avoided delays.

"Everyone worked well together and respected each other's opinions and abilities," explains Lynn Bortel of FHWA. "Thus there was little or no duplication of effort."

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 and ride facility, and three noise walls.

The Executive Summit produced a cooperative agreement that established a set of goals and objectives, endorsed interagency collaboration, and directed staff to:

  • Develop a streamlined process based on the Integrated NEPA/404 process;
  • Encourage the participation of all stakeholders;
  • Remove constraints on agency manpower & budgets;
  • Share information on transportation and environmental priorities;
  • Continue dialogue on land use, growth, and transportation;
  • Establish a conflict resolution process; and
  • Develop state specific interagency agreements.

An interagency team of managers and staff was formed, the Mid-Atlantic Transportation and Environment (MATE) Task Force, that would be a cohesive team to implement these directives. The MATE Task Force expanded stakeholder participation, facilitated a collaborative problem solving process, and sought consensus on which key concerns should be streamlined first. Effective and successful coordination processes were used as a basis for improving coordination and cooperation among stakeholders.

Challenges

The challenges the MATE Task Force encountered echo the challenges in other streamlining processes. Communication between Task Force members surfaced as a major obstacle. The need to deepen one another's understanding of the other became imperative as the process went forward.

Participants noted other obstacles:

  • Lack of agency and public involvement in the scoping process;
  • Unsuccessful integration of the Section 106 process into scoping;
  • Difficultly of providing appropriate and satisfactory level of detail for various agencies at specific concurrence points, including the need to synchronize concurrent analysis;
  • Consistency of engineering for all preliminary alternatives;
  • Lack of information sharing;
  • Lack of buy in from each agency;
  • Competing goals of various agencies;
  • Lack of consideration of follow-up mitigation commitments; and
  • Maintenance of commitments after the ROD.

Maryland's Context Sensitive Design Initiative

Maryland's initiative on context sensitive design (CSD) was born out of the MATE streamlining initiatives. The effort began in May 1998 with the Thinking Beyond the Pavement (TBTP) workshop, sponsored by the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), FHWA, and 30 other participating organizations. The goal of the workshop was to identify the qualities and characteristics of CSD for highway projects. Subsequently, SHA reviewed recent highway projects to see how well they met CSD project and process objectives. These reviews helped SHA develop methods for implementing CSD on all projects.

Maryland sponsored a national workshop that led to the Context Sensitive Design Pilots. The state is conducting a 2-1/2 hour introductory training session for its design staff and consultants. The session covers the concept of context sensitive design and examples of project design using such approach. Another training module focuses on communication skills. MSHA intends to develop one more module to offer a toolbox of good standards and techniques. MSHA is also developing performance measures to gauge how effectively projects utilize a collaborative process, with agencies conferring from the very beginning of project planning and development

Benefits

  • Earlier assessment of projects and resources in planning;
  • States rank project priorities and identify projects with full funding and political support;
  • Delays identified and minimized, process steps consolidated;
  • Tools and Methods for increased efficiency and predictability in environmental review identified;
  • Guidelines for information and data requirements; and
  • Process improves communication among environmental and transportation agencies, increases the efficiency of the transportation project development process through concurrent environmental reviews, and is a mechanism for avoiding and resolving interagency disputes.

Lessons Learned

Meaningful, sustained commitment from upper-level management keeps attendance at meetings high, and ensures better interagency sharing later on. At the same time support for the process needs to come upward from field staff and downward from top management.

Other lessons learned relate to conflict resolution, the need for keeping good records, and the need to make sure the group has a good facilitator who knows both sides of the issue. And the successes of the process need to be advertised so that others become aware that positive collaboration yields results, and the group's efforts are reinforced.

Next Steps

The MATE Task Force is developing tools and performance measures, initiating pilots, and exploring opportunities for further enhancing the linkage between transportation planning and NEPA. Having regarded conflict resolution as a critical element to be improved, a specific process is under development. The Task Force is also making efforts to determine a concurrence point on the preferred alternative among agencies.

To address some of the challenges and persistent problems identified, the Task Force is seeking to expand the stakeholder group. This includes determining the best way to coordinate and integrate the streamlined process with transportation planning by involving MPOs and transportation agency planning personnel.

For further information

Denise Rigney
Environmental Protection Agency, Region 3
1650 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
215-814-2726
rigney.denise@epa.gov

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