|Environmental Review Toolkit|
|NEPA and Project
|Section 4(f)||Water, Wetlands,
|Accelerating Project Delivery|
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.
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