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ARTBA Comments on FHWA/FTA Environmental Review Process Guidance


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ARTBA offers support for FHWA Guidance Aimed at Improving Project Delivery

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ARTBA Comments on FHWA/FTA Environmental Review Process Guidance

  1. 1. May 12, 2015 Docket Management Facility U.S. Department of Transportation 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE West Building, Ground Floor Room W12-140 Washington, DC 20590-0001 Re: Docket No. FHWA-2015-0001, Notice of Availability of Revised Guidance on the Environmental Review Process On behalf of the 6,000 members of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), I respectfully offer comments on the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Notice of Availability of Revised Guidance on the Environmental Review Process. ARTBA’s membership includes private and public sector representatives that are involved in the planning, designing, construction and maintenance of the nation’s roadways, waterways, bridges, ports, airports, rail and transit systems. Our industry generates more than $380 billion annually in U.S. economic activity and sustains more than 3.3 million American jobs. ARTBA members undertake a variety of activities that are subject to the transportation project environmental review and approval process in the normal course of their daily operations. ARTBA’s public sector members adopt, approve, or fund transportation plans, programs, or projects. ARTBA’s private sector members plan, design, construct and provide supplies for these federal-aid improvement projects. This document represents the collective views of our 6,000 member companies and organizations. The FHWA/FTA Revised Guidance implements a number of changes to the project delivery process required by the bipartisan “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21) surface transportation reauthorization law, including:  Establishing a framework for setting deadlines for decision making in the environmental review process;  Establishing an alternative dispute resolution process;  Establishing penalties for federal agencies that do not make timely decisions;  Providing an option for completion of stalled environmental impact statements (EIS) within four years; and  Combination of the final EIS and record of decision (ROD) into a single document. ARTBA is supportive of all of the changes to the environmental review process contained in the Revised Guidance. They are the product of a bipartisan recognition that the current project delivery review and approval process takes too much time.
  2. 2. 2 According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), as many as 200 major steps are involved in developing a transportation project from the identification of the project need to the start of construction. According to the same report, it typically takes between nine and 19 years to plan, gain approval of, and construct a new major federally funded highway project. This process involves dozens of overlapping state and federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), state NEPA equivalents, wetland permits, endangered species implementation, clean air conformity, etc. Often times these procedures mask disparate agendas or, at a minimum, demonstrate an institutional lack of interagency coordination that results in unnecessary delays. All of the revisions outlined in the guidance will have a positive impact on the project review and approval process. Specifically, the option to limit EISs to a total of four years will reduce project delivery time, as EISs can currently run over a decade. Further, implementation of an alternative dispute resolution process will give parties an avenue to avoid litigation. This is a significant reform, as fear of litigation often leads to lengthy and burdensome EISs in an effort to “bulletproof” documents in anticipation of future lawsuits. In terms of further improving the EIS process, we ask FHWA and FTA to look to reforms made to categorical exclusions (CEs). MAP-21’s improvements to the categorical exclusion (CE) process are one of the highlights of the reauthorization law’s numerous reforms. As the CE process becomes more streamlined and efficient, ARTBA recommends that FHWA and FTA use resources previously dedicated to CE review on EISs. Channeling resources towards the most complicated project reviews will help to ensure resources are used efficiently. Another reform encapsulated in the guidance which has long been an ARTBA priority is the placing of deadlines on federal permitting decisions. MAP-21 established both time limits for permitting decisions and the imposition of fines on agencies for missing newly created deadlines. In implementing the guidance, ARTBA urges the focus of these provisions not be placed on the actual collection of fines, but rather on the use of fines as a mechanism to identify and correct deficiencies and facilitate training in the review process. If a disproportionate amount of fines are coming from a particular office or agency, or by a particular type of project or permit, the revenue collected should be channeled into an effort to either retrain the personnel responsible for the delays or examine and correct the procedures causing the delay. NEPA was never meant to be a statute enabling delay, but rather a vehicle to promote balance. MAP-21’s reforms will help to achieve this balance and ARTBA looks forward to continued discussion with FHWA and FTA on these important issues. Sincerely, T. Peter Ruane President & C.E.O