January 30, 2013

FTA streamlines NEPA process

In keeping with President Obama’s emphasis on cutting government red tape to speed up federal decisions on vital, job creating transportation infrastructure projects, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced important revisions — the first in more than 25 years — to expedite the environmental review process that all proposed transit projects seeking federal funds must undergo as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“This Administration is committed to clearing the way for communities to invest in transit options that revitalize neighborhoods and improve access to jobs and critical destinations,” said Secretary LaHood. “These improvements expedite our environmental review process to move projects through the pipeline more quickly, while preserving critical community input on how planned transit projects affect the local environment.”

One impact of FTA’s new environmental review provisions is that the changes will make it possible to expedite the release of Hurricane Sandy emergency relief funds to aid in the restoration, rehabilitation and replacement of damaged transit assets in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other regions.

Greater efficiencies will be achieved by allowing communities developing rail, bus, streetcar and ferry transit projects to spend less time and effort preparing documentation, such as environmental assessments, while continuing to ensure the protection of the environment and people’s health. For example, a transit project slated for development in an existing transportation right-of-way would qualify for a less cumbersome environmental review process than one breaking all new ground.

To help expedite the process overall, transportation authorities are also encouraged to take environmental impacts into consideration sooner, as part of the planning process, rather than later in the process which may cause delays.

“The FTA is continuing to find ways to make our government work smarter on behalf of the American people by cutting inefficiency wherever we find it,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. “These common-sense changes will allow communities to move projects from the drawing board to construction more quickly than in the past while making sure that we don’t compromise on protecting the environment.”

The changes announced today are the result of the most comprehensive review of FTA’s environmental procedures since 1987 and are in line with the provisions in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) designed to expedite project delivery.

The changes will also boost transparency of the NEPA process by encouraging environmental impact statements and other environmental review documents to be posted online, keeping local residents and other interested groups informed.

The changes to FTA’s environmental review process are consistent with President Obama’s Presidential Memorandum issued in August 2011, instructing departments to speed infrastructure development through more efficient and effective permitting and environmental review as well as the President’s Executive Order 13563 issued in January 2011, calling on Federal agencies to “modify, streamline, expand, or repeal” rules that may be “outmoded, ineffective, insufficient or excessively burdensome.”

The changes will be effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, within the next few days.

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