The I-73 Partnership entails close coordination among all regulatory agencies, with the goal of developing an overall project-delivery strategy. The interagency group is also working to implement the NEPA process and the project-permitting process concurrently. Photo: SCDOT. Visit: I-73 Project website
Interstate 73: High Priority and High Profile
Considered by many to be the most significant new road construction project in the State, South Carolina's segment of Interstate 73 (I-73) is expected to support economic development and to improve hurricane evacuation. Moreover, Congress has designated I-73, which as planned will run between Detroit, Michigan and the Myrtle Beach/Grand Strand area of South Carolina, as a high-priority corridor. I-73 would improve mobility and support economic growth by linking the Myrtle Beach area to I-95.
The tourist and year-round populations of the Myrtle Beach area are growing. Each year, more than 80 percent of the area's 13 million tourists use the State's road system. As a controlled access facility, I-73 would be designed to allow reversing southbound lanes for relieved congestion and greater traffic mobilization during an emergency evacuation. For these reasons, in August of 2004, the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) filed a Notice of Intent, formally beginning the process to develop an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project. The EIS covers a southern segment of the study area, extending from Myrtle Beach north approximately 60 miles to Interstate 95 (I-95). Environmental review for a northern segment of the highway that would connect I-95 to I-73 near Rockingham, North Carolina is planned for a later date.
The I-73 Partnership
With a project of such magnitude, FHWA and the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) were looking for ways to streamline the environmental review process. Previously in South Carolina, agencies were sometimes not involved early in the transportation decisionmaking process, leading to miscommunication. Seeking to avoid similar impediments, SCDOT, in conjunction with FHWA, undertook for this project, a collaborative effort with resource agencies that was unprecedented in the State. This effort, called the I-73 Interagency Partnership, is a multi-year initiative intended to help SCDOT further its environmental streamlining and stewardship goals.
The I-73 Partnership is comprised of 12 Federal and State agencies. Each agency has agreed to a series of strategically planned interagency workshops. These meetings, facilitated by an outside contractor, bring resource and regulatory agencies to the transportation-decisionmaking table, ensuring that all interests are incorporated throughout the project. By getting the right people involved in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process early and continuously, the project team anticipates better and more readily implemented decisions for I-73.
How the Partnership Advances Streamlining
The I-73 Partnership is advancing environmental streamlining and stewardship in several ways. Primarily, the involved agencies are working to ensure that the NEPA process and the project's permitting process occur concurrently. This is the first time that any project in South Carolina has been developed this way. By obtaining necessary permits in conjunction with the NEPA process, SCDOT is helping to secure two keys to success: agency buy-in throughout the process and a shorter time horizon for project completion.
Other specific streamlining aspects of the Partnership include:
- Use of Corridor Analysis Tool The project team developed a GIS (Geographic Information System) application called the Corridor Analysis Tool (CAT) to narrow the initial list of roughly 100 alignment alternatives down to 7. To do so, I-73 Partnership agencies first contributed their data layers (approximately 200 in total), then met to discuss, develop, and ultimately agree on a ranking system to indicate sensitivity for the resources potentially impacted by I-73. The CAT analysis in turn helped planners to determine the areas that an I-73 alignment should avoid. With CAT's success, SCDOT and its partners have developed trust in the tool's utility and anticipate using it in the future.
- Three-Tiered Approach for Involvement The project team created three different tracks for involving the agencies, stakeholders, and the public in project decisions. The agency track, or Agency Coordination Team (ACT), consists of I-73 "captains" from each governmental agency. These captains have the authority to make decisions at major project milestones. The stakeholder track is comprised of a variety of special interest groups and other concerned entities. The stakeholders meet routinely and provide focused input and recommendations to the project team. The Partnership's third track, the public involvement track, consists of a series of public meetings held throughout the study area at key decision points and major milestones.
- Development of Negotiated Timeframes Because of the excellent working relationships among the agencies, South Carolina prides itself on processing environmental documents efficiently. The I-73 project is working to continue this success. The project team, with the support of the ACT, has committed to finishing this EIS, including the issuance of all permits, in 3 years or less.
A Partnership for Permitting: Washington State's Multi-Agency Permitting Team (MAP Team)
Like SCDOT, Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is exploring new ways to partner with other agencies. In November of 2003, three Washington State agencies and one Federal agency joined forces in a new approach to permitting the Multi-Agency Permitting Team (MAP Team). In 2004, the King County Department of Development and Environmental Services joined the effort.
The MAP Team has one primary goal to make permit decisions for a selected set of WSDOT projects. The MAP Team helps create an accountable, transparent process that is able to identify risks and opportunities, and address and avoid conflicts early, thereby achieving permit decisions in a predictable and timely manner. This process can reduce environmental impacts and help keep projects on schedule. More information.
Effective Strategies for Building Interagency Partnerships
SCDOT applied well-planned actions to ensure that the I-73 Partnership started with a strong foundation and grew to provide long-lasting benefits.
- Foster Continued Commitment When the I-73 Partnership was forming, SCDOT sought to ensure the involvement of all agencies. To that end, the FHWA has offered financial assistance to State and Federal agencies to enable their participation in the Partnership. FHWA and SCDOT have also funded a total of six liaison positions at various State and Federal agencies to work on this and other important transportation projects. This willingness to address the concerns of their partners helped FHWA and SCDOT foster interagency commitment to the Partnership. They expect that similar commitment will carry over to and help streamline the development of other large-scale transportation projects.
- Involve Agency Leadership FHWA Division Administrator Bob Lee and SCDOT Executive Director Elizabeth Mabry made personal visits to the regional directors of various Federal agencies to gain their support for and commitment to the early coordination that the I-73 Partnership required. Agency directors also established a process for decision escalation/conflict resolution to be used if consensus cannot be reached at the staff level. After gaining support at the highest levels, FHWA and SCDOT staff arranged face-to-face meetings with their resource agency counterparts so that expectations could be defined clearly from the outset. Reaching out in this manner helped build trust and generate meaningful participation.
Mr. Patrick Tyndall
Federal Highway Administration
South Carolina Division
1835 Assembly Street,
Columbia, SC 29201-2483
Phone: (803) 765-5194