The I-69 project is located along the eastern side of Texas. The corridor is broken into three separate study areas: North, Central, and South. Within each study area, there are between three and eight Sections of Independent Utility, which are specific sections of the overall I-69 Corridor Study that stand on their own even if the adjacent section(s) are not built.
Source: FHWA Texas Division
Developing a Model of Efficiency through Collaboration
Interstate 69 (I-69) will someday stretch from Canada to Mexico. Of its 1600 miles, 1000 miles of this transportation corridor will run from border to border in Texas. Its location, designated by Congress in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA), was chosen because of the unique economic opportunities that could be created along the north-south corridor, specifically opportunities related to the North American Free Trade Agreement. In Texas, I-69 is a key component of Governor Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor Plan, which envisions multi-modal corridors across the state to improve the efficiency and the comprehensiveness of the state's transportation systems.
Projects on the scale of I-69 take many years to complete, involve many different stakeholders, and cost billions of dollars. Therefore, ensuring that the process is both efficient and effective is particularly important. As directed by Section 1309 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is committed to using environmental streamlining to ensure the timely delivery of transportation projects while protecting and enhancing the environment. FHWA and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) are dedicated to making the I-69 project a model of the efficiency that can be achieved in large-scale projects. A process manual approved in October 2003 is expected to help ensure the success of this model.
The Key to Streamlining: The Process Manual
To address the complexity of the I-69 project, TxDOT and FHWA collaborated to an unprecedented degree with other Federal, State, and local agencies. To facilitate the direction of the project, they created a Steering Committee, which includes the executives of the Federal and State transportation and resource agencies. They also created a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), which includes TxDOT, FHWA, all State and Federal resource agencies, and the affected Metropolitan Planning Agencies. One of the most important functions of the TAC is to review project deliverables, such as required environmental documentation, at key junctures in the project and make recommendations to the Steering Committee. Gaining input from all participating agencies during the early stages of the project development and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation processes will save valuable time and eliminate the need to revisit certain issues at later stages. The TAC/Steering Committee began meeting in late 2001 and early 2002 to formulate an overall approach to the project process. In September 2003, after many months of hard work and coordination, the Committee produced what would become the key to streamlining the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor project, the I-69/Trans Texas NEPA and Project Development Process Manual (Process Manual). The Process Manual, reviewed and approved by the TAC, provides guidance for each step of the project development process, including how to effectively manage working relationships among many agencies.
Although established by the TAC/ Steering Committee as the defining guidance for project development, the Process Manual emphasizes that collaboration will not infringe upon any agency's individual jurisdictional responsibilities. It makes clear that the process requires some degree of flexibility, and will evolve as the project moves forward. All participants, through meetings of the TAC, will agree on any future revisions to the framework. Setting the collaborative context from the outset, the Process Manual opens with the partnering agreement, signed by all members of the TAC, which sets forth the goal of initiating a "new way of doing business" and streamlining the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor project development process. The agreement describes the vision, mission, and values that guide project development, and defines the group's objective: meeting the project's purpose and need, minimizing the negative impacts of the proposed action, and protecting and enhancing the human and natural environment.
A Framework for Decisionmaking
To meet the ambitious goals of the TAC, a section of the Process Manual was designed to provide a framework for decisionmaking. The section addresses organizational structure, the decision process, and conflict resolution.
- Structure - explains the relationship between the TAC and the project's Steering Committee, and the composition and roles and responsibilities of both. The main responsibility of the Steering Committee is to provide policy-level oversight, whereas the TAC is more involved in the technical aspects of the review process. The structure section also defines lead and cooperating agencies, as well as a format for scheduling TAC meetings.
- Decision Process - gives a general overview of where certain concurrence points occur during project development. It also provides procedures for concurrence and non-concurrence within the TAC, review and approval of concurrence and non-concurrence of the TAC by the Steering Committee, and provisions for revisiting those concurrence decisions and documenting them.
- Conflict Resolution - describes in detail the procedures to be followed should a lack of consensus exist within either the Steering Committee or the TAC.
A Unique Relationship:
FHWA, TxDOT, and EPA
The innovative partnership forged among FHWA, TxDOT, and EPA was central to the development of the Process Manual. From the beginning, EPA provided leadership within the TAC and created connections to resource agencies that would become integral participants in the process. EPA Headquarters assigned an employee to work full-time on the I-69 project in Texas, while FHWA donated office space and other resources.
The EPA representative brought expertise in both environmental issues and process manuals, and facilitated dialogue between transportation and environmental agencies, enabling the level of coordination that this project required.
A Step-by-Step Process Guide
The I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor project will be developed using the tiered Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process, which streamlines NEPA documentation for extraordinarily large projects. Within the Process Manual, the Process Guide provides specific instructions for developing a tiered EIS. The Process is broken down into stages, and for each stage a detailed flow chart outlines all of that stage's requirements. Each stage is broken into smaller steps, and for each step a user-friendly table denotes each agency's responsibilities at that step. The Process Manual's appendices provide resources to assist users throughout the life of the project, including an expansive glossary of definitions, the project's public involvement plan, guidance on the level of detail of data required from agencies, and templates for documentation forms.
Looking Forward to Further Success
The I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor project is still in its infancy, so measurement of the Process Manual's effectiveness is limited at this time. However, TxDOT and FHWA have seen evidence of the Manual's ability to streamline the NEPA process beginning in the very first stages of project development, such as early agreement about how to settle disputes in a prompt fashion. Although the project's size and complexity will naturally prolong its duration, significant savings of both time and money are expected as a result of the thoughtful planning that went into producing the Process Manual.
Sandra E. Allen
I-69 Environmental Manager
FHWA Texas Division Office
300 East 8th Street, Room 826
Austin, TX 78701
Look What's New!
To view other successful state practices like Texas' I-69/ Trans-Texas Manual, visit FHWA's State Environmental Streamlining Practices Database at http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/es3stateprac.asp which contains over 400 successful practices from across the country. If you would like to add a practice to this database, please email your request to Ruth Rentch at firstname.lastname@example.org.