Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

National Environmental Streamlining Initiatives

Highway and Transit Environmental Streamlining Progress Summary

Report to Congress

February 2002

Executive Summary

Section 1309 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) directs the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to develop and implement a coordinated environmental review process for highway and transit construction projects. In the DOT's Appropriations Act conference report 107-308 to accompany H.R. 2299, the conferees directed the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to provide the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations a report no later than January 2, 2002, summarizing FHWA's streamlining efforts. This report is DOT's summary of the FHWA's and the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) progress on environmental streamlining.

In the simplest terms, environmental streamlining consists of completing environmental reviews and permitting in a timely way, while ensuring environmentally sound projects. This entails establishing realistic project development timeframes among transportation and environmental agencies, and then working cooperatively to adhere to those timeframes. The coordination of multiple and overlapping environmental reviews, analyses, and permitting actions is essential to meeting the environmental streamlining mandate for highway and transit projects under TEA-21. Although certain processes overlap, the procedural requirements for meeting these mandates are distinct and defined by each Federal agency charged with statutory oversight of a specific environmental resource or concern. Also, most states and some local jurisdictions have their own environmental statutes and requirements that must be addressed. The complexity of the processes, multiple actions, and requirements do not easily lead to clear-cut solutions for establishing national timeframes. Instead, Federal agencies, as stated in the National Streamlining Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), agreed to pursue timeframes and other solutions with the project sponsor at the regional, state, local, or project level where their specific processes come into play and where the most effective solutions lie.

DOT recognizes that achieving our bottom line-the efficient and effective delivery of a sound and environmentally responsible transportation program-requires adopting a new mindset that embraces environmental stewardship and builds coalitions through partnerships of interest groups and Federal, state, and local officials.

The DOT approach has:

  • Carried out process reinvention through interagency training, national programmatic agreements and guidance that encourages flexible mitigation practices.
  • Defined a system for dispute resolution that includes draft national procedures, guidance for managing conflict during the project development process, and assistance by qualified dispute resolution specialists to states and project sponsors.
  • Developed performance measures, including both objective data on the timeliness of reviews and subjective data on the quality of environmental impact statements (EISs).
  • Conducted research to evaluate project timeframes, identify reasons for project delays, and assess the effectiveness of implementation efforts.
  • Assisted and supported numerous best practices and pilot projects that catalyzed change and led to even better streamlining outcomes.

Streamlining successes at the national, regional, state, local, and project levels are inextricably linked and form an iterative process. National leadership, direction, policy, guidance, and support provide a framework to facilitate regional, state, local, and project results. These results in turn drive innovations that demonstrate what does and does not work. Best practices are used to inform, shape, and influence national guidance and policies. Using this iterative, participatory approach, DOT and its Federal and state environmental and transportation partners have collectively and cooperatively achieved these results:

  • From 1999 to 2001, the average length of time to process environmental documents for major projects has decreased approximately eight months (from five years 10 months to five years two months); the median time decreased by one year (from five and a half years to four and a half years). Because one or two projects that take exceedingly long to process can disproportionately skew the average timeframe, it is important to look at the data for median times to get a more representative number.
  • 50 states (100 percent) have adopted or initiated process/procedural related agreements or initiatives for streamlining that clarify, amend, or re-invent the project development process. At least 24 states (48 percent) have focused their process redesign efforts on integrating planning and National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) activities.
  • 34 states (68 percent) have agreements that provide state and Federal environmental agency personnel for expediting reviews.
  • 29 states (58 percent) have adopted agreements to merge the FHWA NEPA process and the Clean Water Act permitting process administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This eliminates what can be a duplicative process.
  • 41 states (82 percent) have some level of delegated authority for historic resources that allows many projects to be processed quickly, freeing up Federal and state resources to focus on complex issues.
  • 22 states (44 percent) have initiated tribal consultation MOUs that address new Historic Preservation Act consultation requirements in a streamlined fashion.
  • 26 states (52 percent) have context sensitive design initiatives.
  • FHWA's streamlining web site is the key medium for communication (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/strmlng/index.asp). It includes an inventory of best practices and a catalogue of state efforts and national activities and features a new "Success Story" each month. The site receives up to 1,600 visitors a month, and the circulation of the electronic newsletter letter has seen a 150 percent increase since its initial issue in August 2001.
  • Increasing the emphasis and focus on national programmatic approaches.
  • Instituting agreements between agencies to delegate environmental authority on low-risk activities.
  • Allowing states and Federal agencies to maximize and leverage resources through administrative and technological efficiencies.
  • Developing interagency guidance, cross training, enhanced communication, and information-sharing to overcome inconsistent interpretation of requirements.
  • Establishing a shared responsibility for achieving streamlining at the Federal and state levels, including the development and evaluation of timeframes for project reviews.
  • Fostering distinct Federal agency roles and responsibilities in environmental streamlining by developing strong executive leadership throughout all of the Federal agencies.

For questions or feedback on this subject, please contact Damaris Santiago at 202-366-2034. For general questions or web problems, please send feedback to the web administrator.

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