Participants in the FHWA 2006 Environmental Conference celebrated past achievements, shared lessons on meeting current challenges, and planned future successes.
From June 27-29, 2006, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) held its second biennial Environmental Conference for FHWA field and headquarters personnel. The conference provided a forum to discuss new issues and ongoing topics about transportation and the environment, including critical environmental stewardship and streamlining initiatives.
The 7 plenary sessions and 15 breakout sessions built on feedback from the 2004 Environmental Conference, as well as recent events, such as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).
Sharing Lessons from Across the Nation
Professionals from around the country attended the conference, held in the Crystal City area outside of Washington, DC. Overall, there were more than 240 participants from:
- Forty-eight FHWA Division Offices,
- More than 15 FHWA Headquarters Offices;
- All five FHWA Resource Centers locations;
- Eastern, Central, and Western Federal Lands Highway Divisions;
- Eastern, Southern, and Western Legal Services;
- Four FTA Offices;
- Four FAA Offices; and
- Presenters from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, academia, and the private sector.
FHWA Administrator Rick Capka assists in the ceremonial cake-cutting for the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System, joined by (L-R): Cindy Burbank, Associate Administrator, Office of Planning, Environment and Realty, FHWA; Bob Mahoney, FHWA LA Division; and Bill O'Donnell, FHWA NH Division.
In keeping with its theme, "The FHWA: Past, Present and Future," the conference took place over June 29 - the 50th anniversary of President Eisenhower's signing of the Interstate Act of 1956. Participants reflected on the past 50 years of highway innovation, learned about SAFETEA-LU requirements, and discussed potential future developments for the FHWA.
FHWA Administrator Rick Capka Provides Inspiring Opening
FHWA Administrator Rick Capka addressed the conference theme in his keynote speech noting that, looking forward, the Interstate Highway System will help the United States stay competitive in the global economy by enabling the movement of freight and other goods across the country. He also spoke about how the core issues of freight, congestion, and planning have evolved over the past 50 years. In highlighting highway safety, he noted that over the past 50 years, the number of deaths on the roadways per million miles has been reduced from 5.7 in 1956 to 1.4 in 2004. Despite the decrease, however, there were 43,000 deaths on U.S. roadways in 2004, which makes safety an ongoing FHWA priority. In closing, Mr. Capka said that the 50th anniversary of the Interstate was a "reason to celebrate the work of the past 50 years," as well as the time for FHWA staff to commit to making the next 50 years just as exciting and productive.
Lamar Smith moderating the question and answer session "Re:NEPA Live."
Conference Sessions Address a Variety of Environmental Issues
The conference addressed a range of topics related to transportation and the environment, paying significant attention to sections of SAFETEA-LU. One of the first conference sessions provided an overview of SAFETEA-LU, highlighting the nuances of the bill and its various relevant sections, such as the categorical exclusion delegation, the Interstate exemption and planning provisions. Many of these topics were addressed in more detail in subsequent conference breakout sessions.
Other topics addressed in the conference were NEPA litigation, Section 4(f), public involvement, Context Sensitive Solutions, Air Toxics and Hot Spots, and the Endangered Species Act/Migratory Bird Treaty Act. (See box below for a full list of sessions.) Many sessions were interactive; in particular the session patterned on Re:NEPA, FHWA's online community of practice, gave participants the chance to ask questions in person that would typically appear on Re:NEPA's website.
|Environmental Conference Topics Encompass
Legal, Social, and Environmental Issues
- Section 4(f)
- Section 106
- Indirect and Cumulative Effects
- Freedom of Information Act
- Endangered Species Act/Migratory Bird Treaty Act
- Public Involvement
- NEPA Documentation
- Major Projects/Design-Build/Public- Private Partnerships
- Linking Planning and NEPA
- Environmental Review Process
- Collaborative Decision Making
- NEPA Litigation
- Air Toxics and Hot Spots
- Section 404 and Wetland Banking
- Meet Your Attorney
- Context Sensitive Solutions
- Tribal Consultations
- RE: NEPA Live
Conference Lays Foundation for Future Success
The 2006 Environmental Conference succeeded in providing participants the opportunity to network with colleagues from across the country and to discuss issues that they face on a daily basis. Participants also worked together during the evenings of the conference and held additional meetings on topics ranging from the SAFETEA-LU Section 6005 pilot program to Federal-Aid funding for wetland and habitat mitigation.
The conference identified many new changes or activities that are on the horizon and enabled participants to discuss these efforts including:
- SAFETEA-LU Section 6002 environmental review process – comments due July 31, 2006 on the proposed guidance;
- Preliminary List of Nationally and Exceptionally Significant Features of the Federal Interstate Highway System – comments due July 17, 2006;
- SAFETEA-LU design-build provisions – comments on the proposed rule due July 24, 2006; and
Possible updates to the 1987 FHWA Technical Advisory: Guidance for Preparing and Processing Environmental and Section 4(f) Documents.
Conference proceedings and session presentations will be available to participants later this summer. For more information on these materials, please contact Carol Adkins (see contact information below). Plans for the 2008 FHWA Environmental Conference are already underway!
FHWA Office of Natural
and Human Environment
400 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, DC 20590