U.S. DOT Announces Final Rule to Streamline Environmental Reviews for Transit, Highway Projects

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced a final rule this week that will significantly cut red tape, while achieving better environmental outcomes, for certain transit and highway projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and spur them toward completion more quickly than in years past. The new rule responds to President Obama’s call for federal agencies to put people first by streamlining and improving government services wherever possible.

“Time is money, and by cutting the time it takes to manage environmental reviews, we can help save communities money that they can put toward critical transportation projects,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This is just one example of the Obama Administration’s commitment to make it easier for communities across the country to get the transportation options they need to reduce congestion and improve access to work, school, and other destinations.”

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) anticipate that the new rule, issued jointly, will expedite the delivery of certain transit and highway projects — including projects to be built within an existing right-of-way where transportation already exists or projects that receive less than $5 million of federal funding. The new rule encourages project sponsors and state and regional transportation authorities to build highway and transit projects with fewer impacts to reap the benefits of the quicker, simpler process, which requires less documentation for qualified projects.

“Every transportation project is unique, and not all projects require the same rigorous environmental review process that is necessary for much larger projects,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. “These common-sense changes will help balance responsible environmental stewardship with delivering transportation solutions to communities more quickly—in some cases shaving more than a year off of the environmental review process.”

The final rule on “Environmental Impact and Related Procedures” was published in the Federal Register earlier this week. The rulemaking was required as part of Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), the two-year transportation authorization bill signed by President Obama in July 2012.

“This change will have a positive impact on the vast majority of highway projects by further streamlining the review process, which will save time, money and help get projects under construction more quickly,” said FHWA Deputy Administrator Greg Nadeau.

Both agencies have taken a number of steps during the past year to cut red tape and bureaucracy to help get critical projects under construction more quickly without compromising a stringent project review process.

In January 2013, FTA announced a streamlined approach for its Major Capital Investment (New Starts/Small Starts) Grant Program. In addition, FTA recently unveiled a new STOPS (Simplified Trips-on-Project Software) tool that, for some communities, may reduce from two years to two weeks the time needed for project sponsors to develop ridership forecasts on planned projects. This new tool may save taxpayers in communities that do not currently have travel forecasting tools as much as $1 million.

Last September, FHWA launched “e-NEPA,” an online collaboration tool which is expected to greatly reduce the time needed to complete the comprehensive environmental review process for federally funded highway projects.

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