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DOT to Lighten Transit Project Reviews

Monday, March 19, 2012

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Federal transportation officials are proposing “common-sense changes” designed to “significantly cut red tape” for certain transit projects, dramatically speeding project progress.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff have proposed a streamlined environmental review process for transit projects—the first major revisions to that process in more than 20 years.

 The streamlined approval process could shave more than a year off some projects, officials said.

 Gary Robertshaw

The streamlined approval process could shave more than a year off some projects, officials said.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, published Thursday (March 15) in the Federal Register, will help clear project bottlenecks and “improve transparency without short-changing the environment,” the officials said in a release.

The proposal comes in response to President Obama’s call last August for federal agencies to speed infrastructure development through more efficient environmental reviews.

‘Green-Light Good Projects’

That directive called for expedited review of high-priority infrastructure projects and for improved accountability, transparency, and efficiency through information technology.

“The President has asked us to find new ways to make our government work smarter on behalf of the American people by cutting waste and inefficiency wherever we find it,” said LaHood.

 U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood
The proposal will “reduce the time and energy needed to green-light good projects that clearly do not have a significant impact on the environment,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“The changes we’re proposing will allow us to still carefully assess the impact of transit development on the environment, while reducing the time and energy needed to green-light good projects that clearly do not have a significant impact on the environment.”

The changes, proposed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), could speed the review process for some projects fivefold, “making the NEPA process the most efficient it has been in 20 years,” according to the FTA.

Less Impact, Less Paperwork

The new process would allow certain types of transit projects that clearly do not have a significant impact on the local environment—such as those built within a right-of-way where transportation already exists—to potentially undergo less intensive NEPA evaluation.

For qualified projects, less documentation would need to be submitted. In addition, project sponsors and government authorities would be encouraged to consider environmental impacts sooner, as part of the planning process.

Projects that have the potential for significant environmental impacts would still be subject to a more thorough review.

‘Shaving More than a Year’

“This new NEPA process would help provide transportation solutions to communities more quickly by potentially shaving more than a year off of the environmental review process for some projects,” said Rogoff.

“The bottom line is that project sponsors would be able to spend less time and effort guiding projects through a maze of paperwork and more time building projects that will provide a real alternative to ever-increasing fuel costs.” 

Officials said the proposed changes would boost transparency of the NEPA process by encouraging the posting of all environmental impact statements and environmental records of decision on a grant applicant’s project website—and maintaining that information until a project is constructed and operating. 

The proposed rule is subject to a 60-day public comment period.

This is FTA’s second effort this year to cut red tape. In January, the agency proposed a rule to streamline the way major transit projects compete for federal funds. 

   

Tagged categories: Construction; EPA; Project Management; Regulations; Roads/Highways; Transportation

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