|Environmental Review Toolkit|
|NEPA and Project
|Section 4(f)||Water, Wetlands,
|Accelerating Project Delivery|
Task Force Working Groups
The Task Force formed Working Groups to address the following three policy priorities:
The three workgroups associated with the EO are presently engaged in completing the high priority items identified in the groups' work plans by September 30, 2004. All three groups have a priority item for identification of applicable laws, regulations and guidance. For the Integrated Planning workgroup, the number one deliverable will be graphic and narrative descriptions of transportation, resource, and land management agency planning processes and identification of opportunities for better integration. The Indirect and Cumulative Effects workgroup will focus on the following deliverables: (1) Clarification of specific mitigation requirements of individual program authorities [EPA, DOT Act Section 4(f), CWA Section 404, National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) Section 106, Endangered Species Act (ESA), Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), etc.] related to indirect and cumulative impacts (This activity should also identify opportunities to implement watershed or landscape-level approaches and other opportunities for the mitigation of adverse impacts); 2) Data collection and information sharing on existing guidance and methodologies; and, 3) Development of a coordination model for transportation projects involving indirect and cumulative impact issues that span applicable statutory requirements. The Purpose and Need workgroup will focus on developing options for improving coordination of NEPA purpose and need with other laws and describe impediments to seamless integration of all applicable requirements.
ADMINISTRATION REAUTHORIZATION PROPOSALS
The DOT collaborated extensively with the Federal resource agencies responsible for carrying out environmental laws in developing SAFETEA proposals and FHWA believes that the Administration's proposal successfully balances expanding environmental stewardship while improving environmental review processes.
In the Administration's multi-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal — SAFETEA — there are several provisions that could eliminate some of the inefficiencies in the environmental review system. The linkage between the transportation planning and project development processes would be improved by providing that the results of studies developed as part of the metropolitan and State transportation planning processes would establish the basis for NEPA analysis. The bill would clarify the definition of "prudent" under section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 (49 U.S.C. 303) to forestall confusing standards applied unevenly by the Federal Courts of Appeals and would also resolve the current overlap between Section 106 and Section 4(f). In addition, SAFETEA creates a six-month statute of limitations for legal challenges to environmental actions. Authority would be expanded for States to use Federal-aid highway funds to provide resources to Federal agencies to expedite the environmental review process. The transportation planning process would be simplified by aligning the transportation and air quality planning horizons for purposes of conformity determinations.
SAFETEA embodies the Enlibra principles adopted by the Western and National Governors Associations, which emphasize a collaborative and balanced approach to environmental issues. Through state pilot projects and initiative funding, SAFETEA will continue to assist in implementing environmental management systems and to support ecosystem approaches to mitigation as opposed to project-by-project mitigation. A total of $62 billion is provided for environmentally oriented programs, which is 25 percent of the total SAFETEA proposal. This includes funding for Transit; Transportation Enhancements; Park Roads & Parkways; Scenic Byways; Transportation Community System Preservation Program; and, CMAQ. It establishes new programs to support environmental and planning research, training, and technology transfer.
These reauthorization provisions will substantially improve FHWA's ability to keep transportation projects environmentally sound, on time, and on budget.
COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY (CEQ) GUIDELINES ON PURPOSE & NEED
CEQ provided guidance to DOT and Federal environmental agencies on the responsibilities of lead and cooperating agencies in developing purpose and need statements for NEPA documents. The guidance came about through the exchange of opinions between the Chairman of CEQ and Secretary of Transportation Mineta. In a letter dated May 6, 2003, Secretary Mineta formally requested CEQ guidance on the following two questions: (1) What is the role of the lead agency under NEPA in determining "purpose and need?" (2) What is the appropriate role of cooperating agencies in reviewing the "purpose and need" for a project? In a May 12, 2003, reply, the CEQ Chairman responded to the first question by indicating that "the lead agency — the Federal agency proposing to take an action — has the authority for and responsibility to define the 'purpose and need' for purposes of NEPA analysis." In response to the second question, CEQ Chairman Connaughton suggested that where there are joint lead or cooperating agencies, it is prudent to jointly develop a purpose and need statement early in the process. He went on to clarify, however, that the joint lead or cooperating agencies "should afford substantial deference to the DOT agency's articulation of purpose and need." In addition, CEQ suggested that in all cases where there might be disagreement, it is important to resolve issues and agree on a purpose and need at the beginning of the environmental review process to avoid potentially significant problems later in the process.
ESTABLISHING INTERAGENCY PROBLEM SOLVING AND DISPUTE RESOLUTION
Resolving conflicts that arise during the transportation project development process is one of the most critical concerns facing State and local governments. Information disputes causing delays commonly involve disagreements on lack of data, data interpretation, underlying planning assumptions, and agency jurisdiction. Disputes also can be related to insufficient agency resources, an agency's failure to fulfill a commitment, conflicts over various agencies' missions and mandates, and interpretation of terms used in the planning and review process.
FHWA partnered with the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution (IECR) to develop a series of eleven regional facilitated workshops. Six of these workshops were held in 2003; the remaining five were held in the first quarter of 2004. Visit the FHWA Environmental Streamlining website to learn more about these workshops.2
These customized workshops educated front line staff from Federal and State transportation and environmental agencies and Native American tribes to use collaborative problem solving skills and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques. The workshops were based on the FHWA conflict management guidance and structured to reinforce working relationships, including relationships among the Federal-Tribal-State teams. An important component of each workshop was a discussion of negotiating timeframes for the environmental review process, as directed by TEA-21 Section 1309, EO 13274, and FHWA's Vital Few Environmental Goal.
These workshops have been well received by State DOT officials and feedback indicates that these workshops have promoted practices that will reduce the time to complete the NEPA process. One participant noted that, "I will be more inclined to recommend the use of facilitators to expedite/resolve/improve consultation for difficult cases." Another participant said, "I will consider not only my own agency's processes within NEPA and other laws but also the timeline within other agencies as they work on NEPA."
Facilitators and ADR were successfully used with the Foothills South toll road in Orange County, California. After taking 28 months to achieve concurrence on a Purpose and Need statement, the involved agencies brought in facilitators to help develop the list of project alternatives, technical reports, and other environmental documents. Facilitators are currently engaged with the following EO Priority Projects: Stillwater Bridge crossing the St. Croix River (separating Minnesota and Wisconsin), the InterCounty Connector project in Maryland, and the Community and Environmental Transportation Acceptability Process in Riverside, California.
ISSUANCE OF DOT ELEVATION PROCEDURES
Major transportation projects can become lightning rods for a wide variety of unresolved social, economic and environmental issues at the local, State, or Federal level. It is inevitable that significant conflicts will arise. Rather than recycling difficult issues in agency field offices over and over, and ruining hard won relationships and trust, there comes a time to elevate an issue to the highest level for resolution.
In October 2003, DOT issued DOT Order 5611.1A, U.S. Department of Transportation National Procedures for Elevating Highway and Transit Environmental Disputes. This Order implements Section 1309 (c) of TEA-21 by establishing internal procedures for elevating disputes involving environmental reviews of highway and transit projects to the Secretary of Transportation.
The elevation procedures offer an avenue that FHWA, the FTA, other Federal agencies, Governors, and project sponsors can use to resolve disputes related to agreed timelines in the environmental review process. If a participating agency fails to render its review, opinion, or analysis, or fails to make a decision on issuing a permit within the agreed-upon time period, the issue may be elevated to the Secretary. Although most disputes are settled at lower levels and never require higher elevation, the DOT Secretary may become involved when the disagreement is prolonged, has not been resolved through other methods, or is of such a serious nature that the failure of the project is imminent.
IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF ENVIRONMENTAL DOCUMENTS SURVEY
The AASHTO, the American Council of Engineering Companies and FHWA sponsored a workshop on June 8, 2004 in Snowbird, Utah to explore the various issues related to the preparation of good environmental documentation and to identify steps to improve the quality of environmental documents. In preparation for the meeting, an informal survey was conducted to assess the existence of problems associated with the quality of environmental documents and to understand accurately the nature of these problems. Workshop participants identified State initiatives that addressed problems, and determined which best practices were transferable. FHWA plans to extract from completed EISs particularly good analyses of recurring issues and make them readily available to be adapted and re-used in future EISs with the same issues.
FUNDED STREAMLINING POSITIONS
FHWA and State DOTs expanded use of Section 1309(e) of TEA-21 authority for States to use Federal-aid funds for Federal agencies to meet established time limits for environmental reviews, if the time limits are less than the customary time necessary for such reviews. Some positions are also funded by State funds. In those situations, each State can determine their specific streamlining and project delivery needs. In 2003, 66 percent of the State DOTs (an increase of more than 50 percent since 2002) funded positions at State and/or Federal resource agencies for a total of 246 funded positions. Funding resource agency staff to provide accelerated projects reviews has resulted in immediate gains in efficiency when clear expectations for performance are communicated.
The Interagency Guidance: Transportation Funding for Federal Agency Coordination Associated with Environmental Streamlining Activities3 provides guidance and tools to FHWA Division offices, State DOTs, local transit operators, and Federal resource agencies to develop mutually beneficial agreements to help meet the environmental streamlining goals of TEA-21. Examples of agreements and performance measurements are being posted and shared to help States and resource agencies better manage their liaison programs.
Federal Transportation Liaisons
In 2003, FHWA funded a national transportation liaison position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to coordinate the development of nationwide programmatic guidance, expand interagency training capabilities, and ensure FWS involvement with FHWA, AASHTO, and public interest organizations to sustain progress in advancing environmental streamlining. The FWS liaison actively represented FWS in numerous streamlining initiatives at all levels of government, from cabinet level interactions to field-level coordination meetings, to address FHWA Headquarters' concerns with specific projects-of-concern from across the country. Based on the success of the FWS liaison, FHWA entered into a similar liaison agreement with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), and initiated discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USFS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries for a position with each agency.
EMPHASIS ON ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP
Transportation agencies have made tremendous strides in being good environmental stewards. In many environmental areas, the DOT is leading the way, especially in wetlands protection, historic preservation, and air quality. FHWA is partnering with AASHTO on environmental stewardship to ensure that all State DOTs adopt and implement a strong environmental ethic, as have New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, Minnesota, and Florida, to name a few. These states have brought their environmental commitments to the forefront; see the link to "Our Environmental Commitment" on the Washington State DOT homepage.4 A scan of the annual environmental awards given by AASHTO and FHWA5 demonstrates the extent to which environmental commitments are being integrated throughout State DOTs.
Exemplary Ecosystem Initiatives
FHWA identified and selected Exemplary Ecosystem Initiatives as the Agency's hallmark demonstration of environmental stewardship. Exemplary Ecosystem Initiatives are projects or programs undertaken by State DOTs that embody outstanding principles of interagency cooperation, technology, environmental awareness, and ecosystem conservation. Eight Exemplary Ecosystem Initiatives have been identified to date, including:
Criteria for Selection of Exemplary Ecosystem Initiatives, along with initiative highlights, are available on FHWA's website6.
Training and Promotion of Context Sensitive Solutions
FHWA has increased its attention to promoting the concepts and principles espoused by Context Sensitive Design (CSD), also known as Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS). These concepts help to ensure that transportation improvements are developed and designed in cooperation with communities and stakeholders so as to "fit" into the surrounding environment. CSD/CSS stresses inclusion of the values and needs of adjacent neighborhoods and preservation of important environmental features. CSD/CSS promotes the use of integrated and interdisciplinary concepts for input, and places emphasis on more efficient decisionmaking.
Wildlife Habitat Handbook
FHWA, Federal environmental resource agencies, and State DOTs have been developing a Wildlife Habitat Handbook for people involved in transportation planning, design, review, and development. Once completed, the Wildlife Habitat Handbook will provide direction, guidance, and examples illustrating how transportation and resource agencies can work together to create more effective practices and processes that enhance and sustain fish and wildlife habitats and ecosystems while developing needed infrastructure. Key ingredients for success in this effort include:
EMPHASIS ON PLANNING
Our growing population is putting tremendous strain on our environment and our transportation system. The strain is going to increase significantly in the coming decades. This necessitates more emphasis on upstream planning to protect the environment and avoid more transportation congestion. By involving citizens and all levels of government in decisions on where to channel growth and where to protect wetlands, endangered species, and other environmental resources, there is greater likelihood that multiple objectives can be met. The sooner this occurs, the more streamlined the environmental review process will be. For these reasons, FHWA is supporting innovations that link the planning and NEPA processes. Florida DOT and other States have made a strong commitment and are making significant investments in reengineering their review processes. Active involvement of resource agency staff is essential, and requires a shift in process and perspective.
New National Transit Institute (NTI) Course: Linking Planning and NEPA
To promote the integrated planning objective, FHWA and FTA have developed a new course devoted to linking transportation planning and NEPA processes. The course offers instruction on how planning and the NEPA process can be integrated as a seamless, coordinated decisionmaking framework. The course examines the planning and NEPA processes from policy and management perspectives. Information about the course can be found on NTI's website.7
Florida Environmental Screening Tool
The Florida DOT's Efficient Transportation Decisionmaking process creates linkages among land use, transportation, and environmental resource planning agencies through early, active, and continuous agency and community involvement. The process uses a state-of-the-art, web-based GIS technology called the Environmental Screening Tool, which allows team members to communicate more effectively by providing efficient access to information describing a transportation project and the human environment and natural resources in proximity to the project.
NATIONAL PERCEPTION SURVEY
As part of its response to TEA-21 Section 1309's charge to implement a streamlined environmental process, FHWA contracted with the Gallup Organization to conduct a survey of personnel in transportation and resource agencies from across the nation. The purpose of the survey was to ascertain the perceptions of key participants in the transportation project development process and, by means of applying scientifically reliable and valid survey methods, explore how stakeholders in the process view the quality of the environmental work and services performed by their counterparts. The Gallup Organization measured the performance of agencies involved in the transportation project review process in order to provide a benchmark for the agencies to gauge their own performance and that of the project development process itself; agencies could then focus on areas where improvement may be needed.
FHWA intends to use the Gallup results8 to leverage improvements and highlight best practice areas. For example, FHWA will work with AASHTO to coordinate a regional workshop with States and agencies that responded to the survey in order to understand the baseline results and prepare an action plan for improving communications. Interim surveys will be encouraged at the project level to gauge the continuum of changing perceptions.
A National Review Panel has recommended that the original report on the Survey's Results and technical appendices be supplemented by an "abridged" report, detailed regional findings, and an executive summary. This material was made public in May, and posted on the FHWA Environmental Streamlining website.Back to top
STREAMLINING PRODUCTS AND OUTREACH
SUPPORTING STATE STREAMLINING INITIATIVES
FHWA provides resources (e.g., staff, tools, and funding) directly to projects and State DOTs. In 2003, FHWA financially supported 41 projects in 27 States for technical assistance, process improvements, cross-training opportunities, more effective public involvement, alternative dispute resolution support, and incorporating CSD/CSS principles in transportation project development, design, and maintenance. FHWA maintains a state-by-state summary of streamlining practices and publishes a monthly newsletter "Successes in Stewardship" that highlights various national and State initiatives. These resources and others are featured on the FHWA Environmental Streamlining website.9
IMPROVING BUSINESS PROCESSES
All too often the process for complying with a particular Federal law remains static, rather than being improved to reflect lessons learned or the demonstrated capability and motivation of some States to apply a more effective process. The spotlight is now on Federal agencies to take full advantage of the flexibility that exists in current law to benefit from lessons learned and modernize methods. In 2003, FHWA provided technical assistance and guidance to improve business processes, and funded 24 programs in 19 States to improve process performance. These efforts include programmatic agreements for Section 106, including considering programmatic agreements for listing the Interstate Highway System as a historic resource, Methodologies for Wetland Mitigation with Permitting, Categorical Exclusion Agreements, Memorandums of Agreement on Environmental Streamlining and Interagency Cooperation, and the adoption of environmental management systems. As developments are made, FHWA will continue to assist State business processes through more and improved technical assistance and guidance.
Programmatic Agreement Tool Kit CD-ROM
FHWA encourages the use of programmatic agreements as a mechanism to streamline the environmental review process. Programmatic agreements can reduce unnecessary project delays — such as delays caused by staffing constraints — and utilize discretion where available within rules and policies without compromising environmental quality. When programmatic agreements are used to define responsibilities, goals, and timelines among agencies, they can add an element of predictability to the NEPA process, as well as to State, local, and tribal processes. Most programmatic agreements address historic preservation, wetlands, endangered species, and Section 4(f) issues, which are often issues that cause project delay.
Programmatic Agreement for Interstate Highway System as Historic Resource
The Interstate Highway System will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2006, prompting consideration of the road network for eligibility in the National Register of Historic Places. FHWA has completed a draft context study of the Interstate Highway System. The study defines the historic significance of the Interstate Highway System, establishes a period of significance, and identifies common property types associated with the Interstate Highway System. With the context study as a basis, FHWA is proceeding to address the potential for National Register eligibility and the responsibilities for Section 106 review that are implied through execution of a nationwide Programmatic Memorandum of Agreement. FHWA and the ACHP are working together to draft the programmatic agreement, which would exempt consideration of the Interstate Highway System as an historic resource under most circumstances, except where certain elements have been identified as individually eligible for the National Register by the FHWA Division in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and State DOT.
Template for Negotiated Timeframes
The term "timeframe" refers to the establishment of a schedule or timeline for the environmental review or NEPA process. The term "negotiated" means that schedules should be developed in consultation with others involved in the review process. Section 1309 of TEA-21 calls for a "cooperatively determined time period."
FHWA identified GIS as a technology that can improve the environmental review process through integrating planning and project development activities, as well as fostering better coordination of transportation and resource planning efforts. Incorporating GIS into transportation activities allows for project alternatives to be effectively and efficiently evaluated in response to public or agency comments. Project alternatives can then be continuously compared and appraised. This ultimately leads to a streamlined review process. The recommendations in the GAO report and the CEQ NEPA Task Force11 advocated the use of communication and information dissemination technologies to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the NEPA process. The GAO Report, GAO-03-398 Highway Infrastructure: Perceptions of Stakeholders on Approaches to Reduce Highway Project Completion Time can be accessed through the GAO website.12
Research and Process Improvements
FHWA supports the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) by providing subject matter specialists on streamlining-related Research Panels. This affords FHWA the opportunity to share qualitative and quantitative feedback on streamlining initiatives and ensures FHWA funded research is complementary. For example, Report 481, Environmental Information Management and Decision Support System: Implementation Handbook, is a product of NCHRP's Project 25 — 23. The report contains the results of research into environmental information management and decision support in multimodal long-range transportation planning, priority programming, project development, operations, and maintenance. Phase Two of the research is underway in order to develop, test, and demonstrate a prototype software program that supports the transportation decisions of selected transportation agencies. The results can help inform the work of the Executive Order Workgroups.
NEPA/404 Merger Assistance to States
Avoiding redundancy in the project development process is a clear way to achieve efficiency gains. For instance, both NEPA and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act require evaluating alternatives, assessing impacts to resources, and balancing resource impacts with project need. FHWA supports State DOT efforts to merge these processes to expedite project decisionmaking and avoid duplication in the two processes. FHWA also provides guidance on the NEPA/Section 404 Permit Merger14 on the FHWA Environmental Streamlining website. Many State DOTs completed NEPA/404 merger agreements in the early 1990s, but are now revising these agreements to reflect new realities of the NEPA process and new understandings of how to streamline the process more effectively.
Environmental Management Systems
FHWA has worked with AASHTO to promote implementation of an Environmental Management System (EMS) among State DOTs. An EMS provides a standardized framework for an organization to establish its own specific environmental goals and then measure its performance in achieving those goals. It is a tool for applying well-accepted business principles to environmental issues by integrating environmental considerations into day-to-day activities of construction, operation, and maintenance of transportation facilities. FHWA is providing technical and financial assistance to the AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence, which in turn is supporting States that have initiated EMSs. In addition to providing training and disseminating information on best practices, the Center is assisting States in initial efforts to complete an analysis of gaps between current and best practices, establish an environmental cost accounting system, and identify performance measures. Forty-one States were in attendance at a recent EMS training where information on best practices was disseminated. According to AASHTO data, 58 percent of the states are currently considering, developing, or have implemented an EMS.
Maintenance of Roster of Qualified Neutrals
FHWA and the IECR have developed the Transportation Roster, which lists over 40 qualified dispute resolution specialists who are familiar with NEPA, ADR, environmental streamlining, and the transportation development and environmental review processes. The roster, which is a component of the larger National Roster of Environmental Dispute Resolution and Consensus Building Professionals, is sponsored by IECR. In 2003, FHWA continued to financially support the maintenance of this roster. State DOTs use facilitators for assessing conflict assessment, facilitating interagency partnering agreements, designing conflict management processes, and mediating disputes. State DOTs can use project funds to contract with facilitators through the Transportation Roster.
Workshops on Collaborative Interagency Relationships
FHWA convened the Southeast Natural Resource Leaders' Group (SENRLG) as a collaboration of 11 regional Federal agencies in the Southeast whose missions include the management of natural resources. SENRLG background documents15 are provided on FHWA's Environmental Streamlining website.
Various methods of sharing information are used by FHWA, including: technical assistance, trainings and tutorials, workshops and summits, marketing streamlining and stewardship initiatives, and websites. Updates are as follows:
Flexibility in Highway Design CD-ROM
Trainings and Tutorials
National Highway Institute (NHI) Section 106 Course Update
Workshops and Summits
Environmental Leadership Summit
Marketing Streamlining and Stewardship Initiatives
FHWA receives a large number of requests to provide speakers at conferences and workshops around the country. During 2003, general and customized presentations on streamlining and stewardship were delivered to a wide variety of audiences, including American Planning Association, Association of Local Governments, National Association of City Transportation Officials, National Association of Environmental Professionals, and Transportation Research Board Environmental Committees.
Highlights of FHWA's 2003 maintenance and development of websites to disseminate information and foster peer-to-peer networks are provided below.
Given the plethora of laws, agencies, and different missions involved, it can be time and resource intensive to define problems, agree on solutions, and get those solutions aligned within and among agencies across the country. While there are eight major Federal laws affecting the transportation project development process, there are another 58 Federal laws and Executive Orders that are occasionally applied on a case-by-case basis. In addition, local and State laws as well as regional environmental agreements may need to be addressed. Federal, Tribal, State, and local governments have evolved a wide variety of review sequences to ensure environmental protection. Thus, streamlining process improvements require broad flexibility. While some products and initiatives can affect national direction, e.g., CEQ guidance on Purpose and Need, other initiatives, such as linking planning process products to NEPA reviews, will require substantial State customization to support local and State planning and environmental permitting processes.
An increase in funding for transportation, and hence project-review demands, does not necessarily translate into an increase in funding for resource agencies. Often a staffing shortage can be exacerbated by competing economic development and public service priorities on a regional or State basis. This staffing problem is expected to worsen in the coming years, as projects, workload, and environmental requirements continue to increase. The answer is not necessarily more Federal staff, but much better use of existing staff and more efficient review processes.
Resource agencies are reporting that they are juggling multiple streamlining initiatives among Federal agencies. It will behoove all involved to find common ground among initiatives and to pool resources where appropriate, particularly with initiatives such as integrated planning and the development of programmatic agreements.
The implementation of NEPA can be confounded by inability of lead agency and commenting agencies to resolve their fundamental differences over determining Purpose and Need and Indirect and Cumulative Impacts. Despite guidance, focused workshops, and resolution of priority projects, these two issues continue to require a substantial amount of attention from senior managers, who must resolve project-specific conflicts.
Timeliness of reviews is dependent on project sponsors developing a good package of materials (project descriptions, maps, analysis of impacts, etc.). Despite progress with developing checklists, interagency training, and better mapping products, there continues to be an increasing demand for more information at a higher level of detail. Requests for biological studies are ranging from "document the negative" (no species exists in the study area) to conduct a complete biological survey to determine if any new species exist in the study area. Significant interagency management intervention will continue to be needed to reach agreement as to the appropriate amount of study. Expectations have not been met for completing programmatic permits related to wetlands, water quality, and habitat. The FWS Programmatic Consultation Guidance remains in draft form, and products from the National Compensatory Mitigation Action Plan that can influence Corps of Engineers watershed based permits, are still under development. The trend in the use of Federal-aid funds is toward system preservation — repairing and upgrading existing infrastructure. FHWA's intention is to reduce reviews on routine system preservation projects and operation and maintenance activities through a commitment to use best management practices, thereby leaving staff time to address major projects. Unfortunately, negotiating programmatic approaches often takes years and requires considerable staff time.
To maintain our progress on streamlining, it is critical that FHWA has strategies to address emerging issues, such as air toxics, right-of-way needs in floodplains, compliance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), and global climate change. In the air toxics area, FHWA is consulting with EPA to identify a regulatory compliance pathway through the NEPA process. Regarding floodplains, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has asserted authority for reviewing right-of-way encroachments into designated floodplains, which affects bridge improvements. Managers are working out a memorandum of understanding in order to guide both agencies through a process that is only needed on an occasional basis. The FWS issued internal guidance based on a DC Circuit case, Humane Society v. Glickman, 217 F3.882 (DC Cir. 2000), that explicitly holds that the MBTA applies to Federal agency actions. FHWA is seeking opinion and/or guidance from FWS to allow incidental takes of migratory birds, without fear of criminal prosecution under the MBTA. On the other hand, global warming presents an issue relevant to every project; high level, inter-governmental coordination is needed to ensure that it is addressed at the appropriate geographic scale.
The transportation sector also has the responsibility to partner with resource agencies when new project development and innovative financing initiatives are rolled out. For example, review processes, level of detail, and alternatives analysis may need to evolve to accommodate issues related to design build, accelerated construction technology, mega projects, public-private partnering, and financing transportation projects through toll roads.Back to top
EVALUATING PERFORMANCE OF ENVIRONMENTAL STREAMLINING EFFORTS
The net effect of the push-and-pull forces affecting project delivery is being measured through a few evaluation methods, including: an Environmental Document Tracking System; quantitative baseline measurements; and, a national perception survey. The results collected from these evaluation initiatives allow FHWA to identify inefficiencies in the transportation development process and opportunities for more efficient and effective approaches and processes.
ENVIRONMENTAL DOCUMENT TRACKING SYSTEM
FHWA's internal Environmental Document Tracking System became operational in 2003 and is being used to track timeframes for transportation projects. The system allows individuals in Federal-aid and FLH field offices to record and periodically update the key project information necessary for tracking the progress of active EISs and EAs. This system enhances the ability to monitor project progress between major milestones, and to accurately determine the total processing time for an EIS or EA.
FHWA division offices are working with several State DOTs to develop and implement project management or scheduling software to establish project timeframes, including Texas, Indiana, and Arkansas.
STUDY OF TIMELINESS OF EISs SINCE THE PASSAGE OF NEPA
FHWA supported a two-part baseline study to examine the times needed to complete the NEPA process for transportation projects and the factors that influenced these timelines. The first study (Phase I)27 concluded that of 100 projects randomly selected from the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, the average length of time for preparing an EIS was 3.6 years (approximately 43 months). In 2003, Phase II28 of the study examined over 240 transportation projects from across the country whose EISs were completed between 1995 and 2001. The study's results reflect an average time to complete the EIS process of 5.1 years (approximately 61 months). The purpose of the Phase II NEPA baseline study was, at least in part, to ascertain if the results found in Phase I would be repeated, or if a comparative assessment could be made between the two sets of results, thereby further identifying the baseline history of the length of time to complete the NEPA EIS process.
The Phase II Study substantiates that the length of time involved in fully complying with the NEPA process has continued to increase in recent years. It can also be concluded that, whereas there previously existed a substantial variation in the length of time to comply with NEPA in different parts of the country, the various regions seem to have become much more uniform in recent years in terms of NEPA time requirements. There is, however, a regional difference in that the middle portion of the country (South Central, Plain, Midwest and Rocky Mountain States) has a median range of 3.3 to 4.5 years, while the remaining States (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southwest, and Northwest) have a median range between 5.2 and 6.0 years. Statistical tests were used to determine what correlations existed between factors present on the project and the length of the NEPA process. A statistically significant and sizeable difference was attributed to controversies regarding economic and fiscal impacts; water quality; and, a number of public hearings. Given these findings, this study achieved the basic goal of expanding upon the baseline condition, and identifying continuing trends.
As shown by these basic findings, the need for ongoing and future environmental streamlining efforts has never been greater. The fact that it has recently taken longer, on average, to prepare and complete an EIS than ever before, and that six former FHWA regions recently exhibited higher EIS completion times than did the highest region in the earlier Phase I study period, may be indicative of the fact that there is substantial opportunity for improvement in the overall process. The findings of this study also suggest that any improvement in the process could potentially result in a time reduction that would, at best, only achieve a total NEPA process time that was representative of an earlier decade. Nevertheless, any improvement and resulting time reduction would be a step in the right direction.
These baseline studies will contribute to the understanding of the complex environmental review process, providing a benchmark against which other EISs for transportation projects can be measured. The study also documented "best practices" of eight case studies29 of projects that completed their EISs in less than three years.
The results of the Gallup survey on perceptions will be distributed in 2004 and will spawn many discussions on how to manage projects and entire programs to ensure perceptions between the transportation and natural resource sectors are aligned and are generally positive. FHWA will support use of survey instruments to track perceptions during the life of a project through the EIS Teambuilding Initiative and will arrange for a repeat of the Gallup survey in two to three years to identify larger scale trends at a national, regional, and state level.Back to top
This report documents how FHWA and its Federal, State, and local partners are employing multiple, creative approaches to synchronize environmental stewardship and environmental streamlining. Significant challenges remain. There are a large number of laws to comply with. There are inefficient processes — regulatory approaches have stayed static. Population growth is straining our environment and transportation system. Transportation agencies' environmental stewardship can be improved and resource agencies' consideration for transportation needs can be improved as well. Working relationships are strained as field staff tries to reconcile these issues.
Although the median time for EIS projects in FY 03 decreased by approximately one year, it is the same as it was 5 years earlier. For the 43 projects in FY02, the median length of time from the Notice of Intent to the Record of Decision was 80.1 months (6.7 years). For the 36 projects in FY03, the median value was 67.6 months (5.6 years). Great efforts by all parties will continue to be needed to move the needle toward the ambitious three-year median value objective. Baseline data was obtained for Environmental Assessments in 2003. For the 230 EAs that resulted in a Finding of No Significant Impact, the median time was 26 months in 2003. The median target is 16 months for FY 04, with an eventual objective of 12 months by FY 07.
We will continue to focus on specific priorities, such as the President's Executive Order and improving environmental documents, but we also recognize that resources need to be distributed to many activities in order to develop and maintain a large streamlining "tool box." A seldom-encountered environmental regulation can lead to substantial delays and cost for a given project. Thus, FHWA will maintain its role of serving as an information hub for regulatory compliance, good practices, and innovations.
Building trust and improving working relationships are the foundation of all FHWA's work. Given the size of the Federal-aid highway program, most of the environmental review work occurs in the field, by staff of environmental and transportation agencies. Through continued efforts to enhance collaboration, we expect to overcome narrow, regulatory mindsets and biases against each other's programs and missions, and build greater mutual respect for our different missions, based on recognition that the American people want both a high quality environment and a high quality transportation system.Back to top
1Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2002-09-23/html/02-24252.htm.
2FWHA and U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution (IECR) regional workshops: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/es2conflict.asp#regionalint.
3The Interagency Guidance: Transportation Funding for Federal Agency Coordination Associated with Environmental Streamlining Activities: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/igdocs/index.asp.
4Washington Department of Transportation — Environmental Policy Statement: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/environment/EnvPolicyStatement.htm.
5FHWA Environmental Excellence Awards: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/eea.htm.
6FHWA October 6, 2003 Memorandum, Criteria for Selection of Exemplary Ecosystem Initiatives: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/ecoinitm.htm.
7National Transit Institute, Linking Planning and NEPA Course: http://www.ntionline.com/CourseInfo.asp?CourseNumber=FP212.
8The Gallup Organization, FHWA Study — Implementing Performance Measurement in Environmental Streamlining: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/Gallup_overview.asp.
9FHWA's Environmental Streamlining Website: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/index.asp.
10AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence, "Lessons in Environmental Stewardship: Effecting Environmental Change Webcast": http://www.itre.ncsu.edu/AASHTO/stewardship/webcast.asp.
11CEQ NEPA Task Force, Modernizing NEPA Implementation: https://ceq.doe.gov/ntf/.
12GAO-03-398 Highway Infrastructure: Perceptions of Stakeholders on Approaches to Reduce Highway Project Completion Time: http://www.gao.gov/.
13GIS in Transportation: www.gis.fhwa.dot.gov.
14NEPA/Section 404 Permit Merger guidance: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/projdev/tdmnepa404.asp.
15SENRLG background documents: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/senrlg.asp.
16Transportation Solutions: Collaborative Problem Solving for States and Communities: http://www.policyconsensus.org/issues/transportation.html.
17Environmental Commitments Domestic Scan Report: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/domScanRpt/index.asp.
18National Highway Institute, NEPA and Transportation Decisionmaking Course: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/ecb/index.aspx.
19AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence, "Lessons in Environmental Stewardship: Effecting Environmental Change Webcast": http://www.itre.ncsu.edu/AASHTO/stewardship/webcast.asp.
20FHWA's Re:NEPA Website: https://www.transportationresearch.gov/dot/fhwa/ReNepa/default.aspx.
21FHWA's Environmental Streamlining Website: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/index.asp.
22Successes in Stewardship Newsletter: http://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/es4newsltrs.asp.
23FHWA's State Streamlining Practices database: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/es3stateprac.asp.
24Center for Environmental Excellence website: http://www.environment.transportation.org/indexnew.asp.
25FHWA's Context Sensitive Design website: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/csd/index.htm.
26Historic Preservation Learning Portal: http://184.108.40.206/NPS_Portal/user/home/home.jsp.
27Study of Timeliness of EISs — Phase I: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/baseline/index.asp.
28Study of Timeliness of EISs — Phase II: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/baseline/phase2rpt.asp.
29Studies documenting best practices of eight case studies of projects that completed their EISs in less than 3 years: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/casestudies/index.asp.Back to top
USE of FY03 ENVIRONMENTAL STREAMLINING Special Funds
|Alaska||Interagency Workshops on Expediting Processing of Projects' Environmental Documents||$30,000|
|Arizona||Publish "Guidelines for Highways on Public Lands" (BLM & USFS)||$100,000|
|US 93 Upgrade — Monitoring of Big Horn Sheep Population (Phase I)||$185,000|
|Arkansas||Develop Habitat Restoration Plan & Programmatic Biological Opinion For a Fresh Water Mussel Species||$100,000|
|California||Develop the Community and Environmental Transportation Acceptability Process (CETAP)||$500,000|
|Rotation of CalTrans Employees through the FHWA Div.||$11,000|
|Colorado||Assess Air Toxics on a Neighborhood Scale (Good Neighbor Project)||$41,000|
|Pilot Project on Linking Planning & Environment — North Front Range Metro Planning Organization||$250,000|
|Using Landscape-types to Develop Locations for Wildlife Crossings ("More Efficient Transportation Decision Making")||$95,000|
|Florida||Efficient Transportation Decision Making Process||$400,000|
|Georgia||Consultation & Collaboration with Native American Tribal Governments for a Traditional Cultural Property Resource||$100,000|
|Hawaii||Develop Methodologies For Wetland Mitigation w/Permitting Agencies||$50,000|
|Idaho||Environmental Streamlining for Local Highway Agencies||$45,000|
|Indiana||Updating INDOT Public Involvement Procedures & Handbook||$20,000|
|Wetland Banking/Restoration Project||$25,000|
|Louisiana||Interagency Summit for Environmental Coordination||$9,000|
|Maryland||Establishment of a Dispute Resolution Process for the Inter-County Connector||$80,000|
|Michigan||Streamlining Endangered Species Act Procedures with USFWS & MI DNR||$50,000|
|Mississippi||Consultation & Training For Native American Issues||$48,000|
|Montana||US 93 Multi-Agency Ecosystem Plan||$10,000|
|US 93, Project Development Process Video||$100,000|
|Nebraska||Inter-agency GIS Data Base Connectivity; Inter-agency Meetings||$39,000|
|New Jersey||Facilitated Inter-agency Section 106 Workshop||$5,000|
|North Carolina||Electronic Procedures Manual for Documentation of Systems Planning and Project Development||$200,000|
|Satewide Stream Mapping GIS Data Base||$250,000|
|North Dakota||Training/Partnering with EPA, Scanning Tour to Field||$11,000|
|Ohio||Partnering Meetings with FHWA, ODOT, USFWS||$55,000|
|Developing Programmatic Agreements Stemming from Partnering Sessions||$65,000|
|Pennsylvania||Summit Meeting with FHWA, PennDOT, Tribal Governments||$60,000|
|Rhode Island||"E-106" Cultural Resources Data Base||$50,000|
|Texas||I-69 Endangered Species Mapping Using GIS; Using EPA's GISST System||$100,000|
|I-69 Partnering with Army Corps and USFWS, Outreach and Coordination with Various Non-Governmental Organizations||$40,000|
|Analysis of Landscape Factors and Highway Safety||$25,000|
|Utah||Environmental Assessment Procedures Manual||$50,000|
|Using Software for Evaluating Land Use Impacts in Various Development Scenarios in S. Utah||$50,000|
|Development of Categorical Expert System||$100,000|
|Washington||Programmatic Agreements with Tribal Historic Preservation Officers for Sec. 106 Consultation||$50,000|
|Enhancment of Searchable Data Base for National Register & Washington Heritage Register Properties||$100,000|
|Low Impact Development Options for Stormwater Management on a High-Capacity Urban Highway||$330,000|
|Wyoming||Streamlining Environmental Data Collection & Analysis Using an Internet Map Server||$48,000|
|Executive Order 13274, Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure — Report to the President||$150,000|
|Alternative Dispute Resolution:|
|Maintenance of Roster of Qualified Neutrals; Facilitation Services for Selected Projects||$250,000|
|Continuation of ADR Regional Training Workshops (IECR)||$50,000|
|Liaison Details for Federal Agencies with FHWA:|
|US Fish & Wildlife Service (1-yr. Ext.)||$150,000|
|Advisory Council on Historic Pres.||$150,000|
|Context Sensitive Solutions:|
|Website for illustrating examples of, and strategies for, CSS||$497,000|
|Develop findings for Workshop on "CSS in Large Cities" (New York Univ.'s Rudin Ctr.)||$75,000|
|"Flexibility in Highway Design" CD||$6,500|
|Technical Outreach & Logistical Support
NEPA/Streamlining Outreach Activities including:
Update of Streamlining Initiatives Data Base
Training for Environmental Competency Building
NEPA/404 Merger Assistance for States
Developing Template for Negotiated Timeframes
Reporting on Environmental Streamlining projects
GIS Initiative (Volpe Center)
|AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence||$1,000,000|
|For Activities Including:||
Development of CD-ROM on "How To Do" Programmatic Agreements
Finalizing CEE website
Holding Environmental Summit of State DOT Secretaries, representatives of Resource agencies, etc.
National Web-cast program on Implementing Environmental Stewardship in Organizations