Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

Reasons for EIS Project Delays

During the spring and summer of 2000, the FHWA Headquarters Office of NEPA Facilitation conducted a nationwide inquiry relating to projects for which an environmental impact statement had been in preparation 5 years or longer. This was done in response to a question by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure/Subcommittee on Ground Transportation.

FHWA Headquarters queried the FHWA Federal Aid Division office in each state and the regional Federal Land Highways Division (FLHD) offices to provide the following information:

  1. To identify all active projects that have not received a signed Record of Decision after five or more years of Federal review,
  2. To identify for each of these projects, its location and scope and how long it had been since Federal review of the environmental documentation process began, and
  3. To list the specific steps DOT was taking with regulatory agencies and States to streamline the approval of these particular projects.

While not specifically requested by the Committee, FHWA Headquarters asked for the additional information:

  1. To provide a brief assessment of the reasons that each project has taken more than 5 years to complete the NEPA process.

Items 'c' and 'd' were left "open-ended" to allow for a full range of responses. For the responses to these questions, FHWA Headquarters relied on the judgment and perspective of the affected FHWA Division offices.

Forty-one of the 52 FHWA and 3 FLH divisions responded to the questions, for a response rate of 75%. FHWA Headquarters assumed that the non-responding offices (the other 25%) did not have any EIS projects meeting the 5 year criterion. That assumption was not systematically validated.

A total of eighty-nine projects were identified as being "active" for more than 5 years. These projects were located in twenty-four states and two FLHDs.

Responses to item'd' were summarized by assigning a single reason for lack of completion per project, whether or not multiple reasons or factors were stated by the FHWA field respondents. If multiple reasons were given, the single reason selected for summarization was either (1) the reason stated by the field respondent to be the main one, (2) the reason that the FHWA staff member assembling the summary inferred from the FHWA field response to be the major contributing reason, or (3) simply the first one listed, if no further explanation was provided. This summary was accomplished by a single staff member without a cross check by another staff member. No attempt was made to validate the reason selected with the FHWA field respondent or the project sponsor.

After compiling and summarizing the field input, FHWA provided the Congressional subcommittee with a summary of the results, a list of the 89 projects identified and a detailed briefing sheet for each project.

The following information concerning the duration of the projects' approval process was developed from the answers provided by the various Divisions:

  • 57.5% of the projects (51 of the total of 89) have been active for 5-7 years.
  • 28% of the projects (25 of 89) have been active for 8-10 years.
  • The remaining 14.5% of the projects (13 of 89) have been active for more than 10 years.

The responses showed that the specific steps FHWA is taking most often to streamline the project approval process are:

  • 32% indicated that they used early concurrence with other Federal agencies, programmatic agreements, and merger agreements (29/89).
  • 29% said that use of team meetings helped to streamline the process (26/89).

Other steps used included assistance from the Division office and/or Legal office, and use of a facilitator. Some responses indicated that nothing specific was being done to streamline the process because the projects had funding pulled by the state or MPO, were of low priority by the state, or had very strong local opposition.

Regarding the single reason as to why the projects' are five or more years in duration, the following categories were reported by the Divisions:

  1. lack of funding or low priority - 32.5% (29/89)
  2. local controversy - 16% ( 14/89)
  3. complex project, so no specific reason - 13% (12/89).

Other reasons included reviews by resource agencies, as well as tribal consultation, changing or expanding scope of the project, wetlands, EJ issues, and poor consultant work. These results are presented graphically in the following pie chart.

pie chart: Reasons for EIS Project Delays. Click image for a text equivalent.

Source: September 2000 FHWA review of 89 EIS Projects in progress 5 years or more without a ROD

For questions or feedback on this subject matter content, please contact Deirdre Remley at 202-366-0524.

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