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
- To identify all active projects that have not received a signed Record of
Decision after five or more years of Federal review,
- 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,
- 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:
- 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
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
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
Regarding the single reason as to why the projects' are five or more years in duration, the following categories were reported by the Divisions:
- lack of funding or low priority - 32.5% (29/89)
- local controversy - 16% ( 14/89)
- 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.
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.