January 15, 2014

U.S. DOT releases final rule to streamline environmental reviews for projects

Courtesy DC Streetcar

Courtesy DC Streetcar
The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) released a final rule, “Environmental Impact and Related Procedures,” intended to significantly cut red tape, achieve better environmental outcomes, and spur certain transit and highway projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to completion quicker 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.

The final rule on was published in the Federal Register earlier this week. The rulemaking was required as part of Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

Both the FTA and FHWA 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 expected to greatly reduce the time needed to complete the comprehensive environmental review process for federally funded highway projects.

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