Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

Successes in Stewardship
Monthly Newsletter
September 2001

Indiana's Seamless Transportation Decision-Making Process

Indiana State Seal

Indiana's Streamlined EIS Procedures

drawing: Indiana with the DOT logo
Cover to Indiana's new Streamlined EIS Procedures
Cover to Indiana's new Streamlined EIS Procedures

Overview of Success

Moving the NEPA process earlier into transportation planning is one key environmental streamlining method. In July 2001, Indiana succeeded in this area by finalizing new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) procedures that outline a more effective and coordinated transportation project development process. Public and regulatory agencies are now involved at the planning stage in developing purpose and need, modal choices, and preliminary and conceptual alternatives for projects.

"Indiana's Streamlined Environmental Procedures" came as a result of coordination among many parties, including: the Federal Highway Administration's Indiana Division, the Federal Transit Administration Region 5, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), the Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and many other Federal and state agencies. The parties formed the Environmental Streamlining Task Group to: 1) eliminate the duplication of effort between transportation planning and NEPA studies; 2) seek agency input at key decision points; 3) provide a structured interagency coordination process with deadlines and a dispute resolution process; 4) provide a structured mechanism to guide consultants involved in EIS development; and, 5) result in timely decisions that avoid project delay.

Implementing NEPA Process Improvements

Under Indiana's new procedures, the NEPA process is started in transportation planning by conducting an Environmental Assessment (EA). Major corridor studies are initiated as an (EA). The public and resource agencies are engaged in the planning stage to develop purpose and need and in the screening of preliminary alternatives and mitigation strategies. If the chosen transportation alternative involves significant impacts, an EIS is developed. EIS development picks up where the EA left off, creating one decision-making process. Duplication of effort is avoided, resulting in efficient transportation decisions that protect the environment. The procedures also allow NEPA documentation to meet the requirements of other permits, including Section 404 wetlands permits and state Construction-in-Floodway permits. The new procedures shorten FHWA's review time of an EIS to an average of three weeks.

Interagency Coordination and Communication

Creating Indiana's new procedures fostered interagency trust. During joint training, agencies learned of each other's needs and perspectives. A new consistent and structured review process further boosted trust. Agencies work together to address issues and comment within 60 days at three key milestones: Purpose and Need; Preliminary Alternatives Analysis and Screening; and Preferred Alternative and Mitigation. Review is concurrent, saving time. Interagency meetings help to identify issues early, when the greatest flexibility exists to address them, and to resolve them prior to approval of the draft EIS, avoiding delays.

Interagency coordination was difficult to foster. To participate in transportation planning, resource agencies must voluntarily commit limited staff time and budgetary resources. Conducting transportation studies as NEPA EAs legally allows resource agencies to participate in the planning process more easily. In addition, some internal resistance to change existed. A series of educational meetings with the public, elected officials, and regulatory staff helped smooth initial implementation.

Conflict Resolution Process

In cases when interagency meetings and communication are not enough to prevent disagreements from creating roadblocks in the NEPA process, Indiana's procedures outline a conflict resolution process. Any agency can initiate the process as soon as a potential conflict is identified. Issues are resolved at the lowest possible staff level. Top management from the participating agencies address and resolve any outstanding issues. The conflict resolution process keeps projects on schedule and ensures agencies respect each other's roles and responsibilities.

Lessons Learned

Initiating major corridor studies as NEPA Environmental Assessments creates one seamless transportation decision-making process. Environmental Impact Statements, where needed, can pick up where Environmental Assessments leave off, eliminating duplication of effort and avoiding project delays.

Early, continuous, and active involvement of Federal, state, and local resource agencies in transportation planning results in timely, inclusive, and quality transportation decisions. Seeking resource agency input at key decision points avoids project delay while protecting and enhancing the environment.

Streamlined EIS procedures that outline a structured interagency process with coordinated environmental review, time limitations, and a dispute resolution process build working relationships based on trust and professionalism.

Project Summary

With the passage of TEA-21, the number of major construction projects in Indiana doubled. Average time to complete an EIS grew from over two years in the 1970's to five years in the 1990's. Resource agencies felt that project decisions were being made prematurely, and therefore, without their participation. Additionally, the public and elected officials, tired of "never-ending studies," became frustrated when alternatives they thought had been eliminated during transportation planning were being reevaluated during NEPA studies. Separate processes for transportation planning and NEPA were resulting in a duplication of effort.

To resolve these issues, INDOT merged their planning and NEPA offices and drafted streamlined EIS procedures based on Indiana's NEPA/Section 404 agreement. In 2000, the procedures were tested on five pilots. Using the pilot studies as guidance, the Environmental Streamlining Task Group first met in January 2001. Throughout its work, the Task Group was committed to protecting the environment. By involving resource agencies early and by conducting environmental analysis during planning studies, Indiana's procedures ensure that projects avoid, minimize, and mitigate environmental impacts. INDOT, monitored by FHWA, will ensure that environmental commitments are fulfilled.

Indiana's procedures are a "living document." An annual interagency meeting, customer survey, and focus group will assess if the procedures are meeting agency needs and identify areas of improvement. Indiana expects to have five draft EISs from the pilot signed by the end of 2001, and no EIS development delays are anticipated this year.

The procedures can be viewed at: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/indiv/procedur.htm

Calendar of Events

Environmental Streamlining Training

US Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service
Winter 2002

Contact Information

Larry Heil
575 N Pennsylvania Street
Room 254
Indianapolis, IN 46204-1576
Phone: (317) 226-7491
Fax: (317) 226-7341
Email: larry.heil@fhwa.dot.gov

Successes in Stewardship is brought to you by the United States Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration Office of NEPA Facilitation.

For more information on environmental streamlining, please visit: www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/strmlng/index.asp.

The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Names appear herein because they are considered essential to the objective of the document

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