Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

REPORT TO CONGRESS
ON FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION ENVIRONMENTAL STREAMLINING
ACTIVITIES DURING 2003

Federal Highway Administration

JUNE 2004

Introduction

As requested in the report accompanying the Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) submits this status report on environmental streamlining to the Congress.

Congress has expanded FHWA's role to include leadership on environmental management. In implementing Section 1309 of TEA-21, FHWA has taken the lead in bringing together interagency forums, funding research and innovations, and drafting policy and guidance that better integrates 35 years of environmental law into the transportation project development process. Given the size of our program, we have the opportunity to influence the delivery of transportation projects across the country.

Each year, thousands of Federal-aid highway projects are advanced, totaling over $30 billion. About three percent of these projects spend nine percent of total Federal-aid funds and are advanced by an Environmental Impact Statement. In FY 2003, 36 EISs were completed with a median completion time of 68 months (5.6 years). Almost six percent of projects advance yearly, spend 15 percent of total funding, and are advanced with an Environmental Assessment (EA) that results in a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). In FY 2003, 230 EA/FONSIs were completed, with a median completion time of 26 months. The vast majority of projects are Categorical Exclusions (CEs), which represent 91 percent of projects and 76 percent of Federal-aid funding. CEs typically take about six months to process. Under its own requirements, a CE should take less than six months, but often other laws, such as 4(f) or the Clean Water Act (CWA), may be triggered and their requirements must be met.

In 2003, FHWA transitioned from a focus on awareness, policy, and guidance development to a focus on measurable implementation of environmental streamlining. Significant advancements at the national and State levels resulted from Executive Order (EO) 13274, Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews and the targeted, performance-based agenda of FHWA's Vital Few Goals. FHWA leveraged its past streamlining successes and new opportunities to improve its own program and performance by collecting baseline measurements, understanding inefficiencies in the transportation development process, identifying opportunities for more efficient and effective approaches and processes, and applying and sharing best practices. FHWA effectively collaborated with project sponsors and resource agencies and partnered with agencies at the Federal, State, and local levels, as well as national entities such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution (IECR). Please see the Appendix that documents the expenditures of special environmental streamlining funds provided through the appropriations process. The following sections of this report provide details (including web links) on these and other efforts to advance environmental streamlining:

  • Major Activities
  • Streamlining Products and Outreach
  • Challenges
  • Evaluating Performance of Environmental Streamlining Efforts
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Major Activities

VITAL FEW GOAL AGENDA

One of FHWA's Vital Few Goals is Environmental Stewardship and Environmental Streamlining. The Vital Few Environmental Goal is a performance-based agenda that sets expectations, measures, and methods for advancing an improved and efficient environmental review process and for demonstrating environmental stewardship. There are three performance objectives and measures for the Stewardship and Streamlining Goal. They address the quality of the transportation decisionmaking process, demonstrated results in environmental stewardship through exemplary ecosystem initiatives, and the timeliness of approvals.

By September 30, 2007 all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Federal Lands Highway Program (FLH) are to use integrated approaches to multimodal planning, the environmental process, and project development at a systems level, and/or Context Sensitive Solutions at a project level. Context Sensitive Solutions are a collaborative approach to developing and redesigning transportation facilities that fit into their physical and human environment while preserving the aesthetic, historic, community, and natural environmental values. In addition, by the 2007 date, a minimum of 30 Exemplary Ecosystem Initiatives should be underway in at least 20 States or FLH Divisions. With regard to timeliness, the following measures will improve the timeliness of both the Federal-aid and FLH environmental processes:

  • Establish timeframes for EAs and EISs and meet the schedules for 90 percent of those projects by September 30, 2007;
  • Decrease the median time it takes to complete an EIS from 54 months to 36 months by September 30, 2007; and,
  • Decrease the median time to complete an EA from approximately 18 months to 12 months by September 30, 2007.

FHWA selected this negotiated timeframes objective because it fulfills the statutory direction of Section 1309 of TEA-21 to establish concurrent review timeframes as a cornerstone of environmental streamlining. Similar provisions regarding timeframes were included in the Administration's SAFETEA proposal.

An integral component of this objective is the documentation of adjustments to established timeframes and the associated reasons for delay. By documenting the tracking of timeframes, FHWA will develop a better understanding of the key impediments to the environmental review process, and will be better able to articulate the sources of delay and address the concerns of Congress, the States, and other stakeholders. All EIS and EA projects initiated after the start of fiscal year 2004 are to have negotiated timeframes for the environmental review process.

Through a monthly "Dashboard Report" to FHWA Leadership progress on meeting the Streamlining and Stewardship Goal is tracked and made available agency-wide. Symbols of yellow, green, and red that graphically show progress are backed by quantitative information and narrative summary items.

EXECUTIVE ORDER 13274

The most important development during 2003 was the implementation of President Bush's Executive Order 13274, Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews. This EO has provided a highly visible forum for improving policies and processes, finalizing decisions on priority projects, and promoting environmental stewardship. FHWA has taken a major role in the Interagency Task Force created by the EO. This new venue has proven to be an effective tool for forging ahead together on a broad agenda of environmental streamlining and environmental stewardship initiatives. Administrator Mary Peters has developed working relationships with her counterparts at other resource agencies; policy and project issues that are elevated are getting timely attention.

Selecting and Monitoring Priority Projects

During 2003, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta increased to 13 the number of priority transportation projects to receive accelerated environmental review. The Task Force assumed an oversight role on each project, tracking progress and working with agency staff to communicate the goals of the EO, resolve conflicts, and identify needed actions. For each project, a senior Department of Transportation (DOT) official was designated "Champion" and closely monitored the project and reported to the full Task Force on project status.

In September 2003, Secretary Mineta announced that in less than one year, four of the priority projects were advanced to a Project Transition List and removed from the Task Force's Project Priority List. The Transition List is an ongoing tracking tool for the Task Force to ensure that they can promptly deal with issues that may arise. The four projects are Interstate 80 in Nebraska; the North/South Alignment for the Community and Environmental Transportation Acceptability Process in Riverside County, California; the Chittenden County Circumferential Highway in Vermont; and the Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project in Kentucky and Indiana. FHWA, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are working with the Task Force to ensure timely advancement of the environmental review process for the nine remaining projects from the current Project Priority List. Visit the website for further details on the Executive Order and implementation activities.1

Lessons learned to date have been grouped into three areas: 1) Promote Early Interagency Coordination and Collaboration; 2) Ensure Appropriate Staffing and Resources; and 3) Define Responsibilities and Agree on Schedules. The Annual Progress Report to the President will summarize lessons learned.

"Successful resolution of issues surrounding these projects demonstrates that leadership and partnership can help advance important environmentally sound transportation projects."

"The President's Executive Order provided the impetus and structure for us to resolve important issues that resulted in unnecessary delays of much-needed projects."

Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, U.S. DOT



Task Force Working Groups

The Task Force formed Working Groups to address the following three policy priorities:

Integrated Planning Obstacles and Opportunities
There is a continuing need to more effectively "link" transportation planning with planning activities of resource agencies and land management agencies, as well as with local land use and environmental plans. Integrating these planning activities will ultimately result in opportunities to address environmental impacts early in a project's development, as well as to identify watershed or landscape mitigation options, which may enhance stewardship of resources while meeting the mitigation needs for multiple projects.

Indirect and Cumulative Effects

Indirect and cumulative effects are similar in that they include less obvious environmental consequences than direct effects and can take more time and effort to analyze. Given their generally more diffuse nature compared to direct impacts, indirect and cumulative impacts can be a source of disagreement among agencies and with the public in several regards. Questions are often raised about the appropriate boundaries of analysis in terms of time and geographic scope, and the appropriate methodologies to use to capture past and future impacts. Disagreement may arise over how much information is necessary at varying phases of the project development process, and what is considered a reasonable level of detail or approach to analysis, particularly when information is not available. Transportation agencies have limited control over resulting land use decisions and there is often disagreement over the role of the transportation agency in mitigating indirect and cumulative impacts.

Purpose and Need

When Federal reviewers and approvers of a project do not have the same shared goals for a project or assume that agency legal missions are not compatible, then conflicts are likely to occur through the life of the project. The May 12, 2003 Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Guidance letter clearly spells out that under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Federal agency proposing to take an action has the authority for and responsibility to define the "purpose and need" (see page 8). Joint lead or cooperating agencies with decisions to make for the same proposed action should afford substantial deference to the DOT agency's articulation of purpose and need. In keeping with the NEPA and CEQ's regulatory guidance of exercising efficient use of time and resources, agencies are to raise any concern immediately and if not resolved elevate if necessary issues to higher level decisionmakers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to assert authority over purpose and need for purposes of CWA Section 404 wetlands permits, which are needed for most major highway projects. Reconciling the different agency perspectives will be a major function of the workgroup.

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

State 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.

For example, FHWA's SC Division office reports that they are very pleased with the funded position at the State Historic Preservation Office; a 30-day Section 106 review is down to 6 days, and the person is very cooperative in attending scoping meetings and field trips.

In order to achieve meaningful process improvements, additional resources will be needed to participate in early planning and project development activities. There is general agreement that this "up front" participation will ultimately avoid problems later in project development and permitting. But for the immediate future, staff resources are being strained by requests to participate early, while still having to work on existing projects and permit applications that may have been developed without adequate interagency participation.

In establishing these reimbursable positions, managers need to be clear on contracting, personnel management, and accountability. There are key lessons learned from States who have been pleased with their staffing agreements under Section 1309 of TEA-21:

  1. Establish the base level of service that the resource agency will continue to provide through its existing staff, which will be augmented by new funded position(s).
  2. When agreements are revised or renewed, incorporate language to describe the purpose of the agreement, including reference to Section 1309 (e) of TEA-21; and explain specific items that are needed to address and accomplish each resource agency's goals.
  3. Improve resource agency reporting of accomplishments. Reports from the resource agencies should be consistent. Quarterly reports should include a list of projects to better inform State DOTs about workload and accomplishments. The reporting period and method should be uniform to aid State DOTs in administering this program. Reporting dates should be established and adhered to and the content of the reports should be better defined.
  4. Expectations should be defined. Time frames for project reviews need to be established for routine items of work. For example, biological assessment reviews and responses should have an agreed timeline.
  5. The coordination process needs to be better defined and adhered to by each resource agency.
  6. State DOTs and the resource agencies should provide closer accounting of funding and expenditures related to the interagency agreements.

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:

  • Arizona — comprehensive approach to wildlife protection and habitat connectivity on the State Route 260 project
  • Colorado — Shortgrass Prairie Conservation Program
  • Montana — U.S. 93 wildlife passage
  • Nevada — Washoe Lake Wetland Mitigation Area
  • New Hampshire — Route 101 ecological protection and enhancement features
  • North Carolina — Wetland functional classification system to support watershed based mitigation/banking
  • Oregon — Fish friendly maintenance practices
  • Washington — Watershed based mitigation initiative

Criteria for Selection of Exemplary Ecosystem Initiatives, along with initiative highlights, are available on FHWA's website6.

"The CSS workshop was very helpful; with CSS, you're usually looking at multiple features of a project. Instead of just having the vehicular perspective, the workshop opened it up to other agencies so that we had a more broad-based perspective. It was a good venue to get feedback from everyone, including planners, resource and regulatory agency staff, and environmental staff."

Wayne Hall, South Carolina DOT

It was also "a real eye opening experience to hear what the resource agencies had to contribute in terms of data and information about the affected environment."

Patrick Tyndall, FHWA South Carolina Division Office



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.

Five pilot States — Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, and Utah — are using the concept to balance transportation needs with the environmental and aesthetic concerns of communities. In addition, 15 other States have CSD/CSS projects or programs. The experience in these efforts is providing important lessons that FHWA is sharing with other transportation and environmental organizations. FHWA provides support for CSD/CSS through: technical assistance, training, support of pilot States, development of resources and tools for practitioners, and distribution of the "Flexibility in Highway Design" publication.

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:

  • Predictability — Confidence that commitments made by all agencies will be honored
  • Connectivity — Capitalization on important opportunities to reduce habitat fragmentation
  • Conservation — Focus on larger scale, multi-species, ecosystem solutions

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

This course has been developed in two modules. One module is a one-day Executive Seminar aimed at upper level managers and directors with responsibilities for transportation planning, environmental analyses, and/or project development working in both planning and resource agencies. The second module is a three-day Manager's Workshop intended for the technical staff members of various transportation and resource agencies who work together to make decisions on transportation projects. The Manager's Workshop culminates with the development of an Action Plan that identifies specific steps each participant will take to enhance the planning and project development process for their State or metropolitan area.

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.

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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.

In 2003, FHWA provided technical and financial assistance to support AASHTO's development (through its Environmental Technical Assistance Program) of a toolkit for developing programmatic agreements among State DOTs, FHWA, and agencies responsible for the protection of environmental resources. The toolkit was distributed to all 50 States via a CD-ROM and is currently available on the AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence website.10

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."

In 2003, FHWA developed guidance on establishing negotiated timeframes and also began developing an electronic template to assist Division Offices and State DOTs in identifying all Federal data requirements and permit schedules. The electronic template will be a web-based interactive tool used to illustrate how agency involvement can be better coordinated and required processes better integrated to provide for a more efficient transportation project development process.

GIS Initiative

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

Since the publication of these documents, FHWA has unveiled the GIS in Transportation website.13 FHWA is also developing a GIS workshop that will address the promise and practice of GIS to meet streamlining objectives, including real cost and technical data. The workshop will focus on researched and documented best practices and case studies. FHWA sponsored and participated in a Transportation Research Board Peer Exchange on GIS. At the event, practitioners from transportation organizations, regulators, and public interest organizations shared their experiences in partnering to develop environmental databases that meet the needs of multiple organizations and enable better, faster, and more cost-effective transportation decisions. State reports were compiled and will be published along with a summary of the workshop. FHWA has supported six States in their research and efforts to implement technologies that can aid in the streamlining of the environmental review process.

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.

The National Policy Consensus Center (NPCC) held a Transportation Colloquium on Interagency State Collaboration Techniques so participants could share lessons learned from successful transportation initiatives and develop recommendations for Governors and other State officials on ways to collaborate more effectively in the future. The colloquium, supported by FHWA, produced a report titled "Transportation Solutions: Collaborative Problem Solving for States and Communities." This report can be accessed on the transportation page of NPCC's website.16

SHARING INFORMATION

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:

Technical Assistance

Flexibility in Highway Design CD-ROM
FHWA produced and distributed the highly effective "Flexibility in Highway Design" guidebook as a CD-ROM. It is written for highway engineers and project managers who want to learn more about the flexibility available to them when designing roads.

Environmental Commitments Domestic Scan Report
FHWA disseminated the results from a seven-State domestic scan17 on the tracking of environmental commitments in the transportation project development process and in environmental permits. The results were presented at various industry meetings, as well as via brochure, report, CD-ROM, and the Environmental Streamlining website.

Trainings and Tutorials

National Highway Institute (NHI) Section 106 Course Update
As a result of streamlining efforts focused on Section 106 processes, there was a strong demand to update the training course for Section 106. In 2003, FHWA began updating the training course with significant input from a Working Group of government and private practitioners.

Update NEPA Training
FHWA offers the NHI training course 142005 — NEPA and the Transportation Decisionmaking Process. The course was completely revised in 2003 and is continually updated to account for changes in the NEPA project development process and related requirements. Streamlining techniques are highlighted in the course. The documents used in the training course18 are provided on the FHWA Environmental Streamlining website.

Section 4(f) CD/web-based Training
FHWA provided technical support to expand the use of the Maryland State Highway Administration's Interactive Training on Section 4(f) CD, and is distributing the CD to other DOTs. The State training program provides user-friendly access to the legislative and regulatory history and other background on Section 4(f) requirements, and allows users to link to explanations of the following: types of resources covered under 4(f); how to determine "use" of a 4(f) property; concepts of avoidance and minimization; programmatic and individual 4(f) evaluations; related statutes; legal issues; and actual and hypothetical projects examples.

State-Level Training
FHWA provided financial and technical assistance to develop training for various States, such as Idaho, Texas, and Mississippi. Subject matter for training includes environmental leadership, environmental considerations during rural road maintenance, mitigation banking, and Section 404 permits. State-specific training offers participant's opportunities for cross training among agencies, building better relationships, and agreeing on next steps to achieve measurable results. FHWA is able to share information from State state-specific training with other States across the nation that are addressing similar issues.

Workshops and Summits

Environmental Leadership Summit
Senior officials of eight Federal agencies and 10 State DOT Secretaries held an environmental summit on critical environmental issues affecting transportation agencies. One purpose of the summit was to provide State DOT input to the work of the Federal agencies under EO 13274. As a follow up to this summit, representatives from Federal resource agencies, FHWA, and AASHTO developed an action plan to address the following issues during 2004: secondary and cumulative impacts, negotiated timelines, system preservation projects (i.e., projects designed to maintain and upgrade the current transportation system), and integration of habitat and transportation planning processes.

Context Sensitive Solutions
FHWA financially supported and participated in a peer-to-peer workshop titled Context Sensitive Solutions in Large Central Cities in June 2003 in New York City.

Federal Lands Highway Divisions of the FHWA Workshops
In cooperation with our Federal Land Management agency Partners (i.e. the National Park Service, USFS, and FWS), FLH conducted three national workshops aimed at enhancing environmental streamlining and collaboration efforts. A brochure documenting the events was prepared; it includes a summary of the common elements among workshops and new issues that emerged.

International Conference on Ecology and Transportation
FHWA was the principal sponsor for the 2003 International Conference on Ecology and Transportation (ICOET), which featured presented papers and discussions about leading-edge science and technology for the ecological aspects of transportation development. ICOET has become a landmark event in information sharing and developing new methods for ecologists and environmental planners involved in transportation projects.

National Web cast Program on Implementing Environmental Stewardship in Organizations
FHWA's funding to AASHTO's Center for Environmental Excellence supported the April 2003 Internet broadcast "Lessons in Environmental Stewardship: Effecting Environmental Change".19 This program featured a panel of experienced transportation managers from four States (New York, Kentucky, Washington, and North Carolina) who shared their experiences with implementing environmental stewardship programs that have led to cultural changes throughout their organizations.

Federal Interagency Workshops
As an outgrowth of the Environmental Streamlining National Memorandum of Understanding, FHWA has hosted a series of national Federal interagency workshops focused on advancing environmental streamlining and stewardship on transportation projects. During 2003, FHWA sponsored a workshop with the EPA and a joint workshop with FWS and NOAA Fisheries. The workshops were designed to identify and build on successful streamlining practices that support the missions of each agency and to assess the challenges that limit these agencies' abilities to define mutually acceptable solutions for recurring and emerging issues. The workshops were effective in getting the national policy message across to the field staff of the agencies.

Native American Tribal Coordination Summits
FHWA supported State and regional Native American tribal summits (e.g., Iowa Tribal Summit and Pennsylvania Tribal Summit) in order to strengthen and streamline the working relationships among FHWA, Native American tribes, and State and Federal partners in the transportation project development process.

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.

Awards are publicized as another means of inspiring excellence in streamlining. In 2003, Vermont received a FHWA Environmental Excellence award for its Programmatic Agreement and Manual on Section 106 Review of Historic and Archeological Resources in Federal-aid Highway Projects.

Websites

Highlights of FHWA's 2003 maintenance and development of websites to disseminate information and foster peer-to-peer networks are provided below.

Support for Re: NEPA Website
Re:NEPA20 is FHWA's online NEPA "Community of Practice," providing an open exchange of knowledge, information, and ideas. The website also includes best practices, an archive of discussions, and training and workshop information. One forum on Re:NEPA provides a focus for the latest ideas and events to guide practitioners on environmental streamlining.

Revision of Environmental Streamlining Website
FHWA revised and modernized its Environmental Streamlining website21 in September 2003. All of these materials are continually updated and each month a new edition of the web-based "Successes in Stewardship"22 monthly newsletter is posted on the website. FHWA also added a State Streamlining Practices Database23 to the website. This database currently catalogues nearly 500 State practices, policies, and technologies that promote streamlining.

Center for Environmental Excellence Website
With technical and financial assistance provided by FHWA, AASHTO created a Center for Environmental Excellence to promote environmental stewardship and encourage innovative ways to streamline the transportation delivery process. The Center is designed to serve as a resource for transportation professionals seeking technical assistance, training, information exchange, partnership-building opportunities, and quick and easy access to environmental tools. In 2003, the Center for Environmental Excellence launched its website, which integrates well with and supplements FHWA websites. The website provides environmental/transportation decisionmakers a calendar of meetings and events on NEPA-related topics, current information on research in this field, and access to a panel of technical experts, a team of highly qualified and experienced experts on-call and ready to assist transportation and environmental agency officials in improving environmental performance and program delivery.

The Center for Environmental Excellence's website24 contains detailed reference information for resource-specific topics ranging from air and water quality to CSD/CSS to project delivery. The website also provides: background material on all Federal agencies that have jurisdiction over NEPA; links to State and local government agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, and industry trade organizations; and a new "Web Watch" feature, which tracks a wide range of websites for postings related to transportation and environmental issues.

Context Sensitive Design Website
FHWA's Context Sensitive Design website25 provides reference materials and information on how to get involved with CSD/CSS for States, regulatory organizations, advocacy organizations, academics, and professional organizations. FHWA is currently working with a broad group of partners to develop a separate comprehensive CSD/CSS website that will contain a large number of CSD/CSS project examples and information.

Historic Preservation Learning Portal (National Park Service)
FHWA, along with over a dozen other Federal agencies, has contributed financial support to the Historic Preservation Learning Portal,26 which enables users to search for specific information and training related to historic preservation. The Portal is hosted by the National Preservation Institute of the NPS and is now operating on a trial basis. It is being populated with documents and websites in various fields, such as architecture, archaeology, history, engineering, technologies, laws, litigation, cultural landscapes, collections, and disaster management.

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CHALLENGES

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.

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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.

PERCEPTION SURVEYS

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.

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CONCLUSION

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.

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INTERNET REFERENCES

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://64.241.25.104/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.

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APPENDIX

USE of FY03 ENVIRONMENTAL STREAMLINING Special Funds
From Appropriations Committee ($6,954,500)

State-Specific Initiatives
State Initiative(s) Funding
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


National Initiatives
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:

$704,000
Website hosting
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
Total $6,909,500

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