Expediting Project Delivery Without Sacrificing Environmental Protection
In an effort to accelerate transportation project delivery, some have suggested short-changing the environmental review process by eliminating public participation and imposing deadlines on participating agencies. However, recent data tell us that well over half (62%) of delayed projects are stalled due to lack of funding, local support and project complexity – not environmental review. More expedient project delivery – and better projects -- can be realized through more sensible planning, early stakeholder involvement and simply taking advantage of existing programs. Better administration of current environmental laws by state and federal agencies and project sponsors is the key to success, not changes to law. Specifically, we propose the following:
- PLANNING - Transportation planning which considers communities and protected resources such as public parks, wildlife habitat, historic sites and scenic areas will produce better projects that are less likely to incur opposition and delay. Integrate existing resource protection efforts into transportation planning to ensure future projects will avert impacts. Taking protected resources into account at the beginning, and planning accordingly will both protect resources and facilitate project approvals. Effective policy would support efforts to develop, harmonize, and coordinate state and local transportation, environmental, resource and land use planning.
- INVOLVEMENT – Involve the affected community early, substantively and continuously throughout the planning and project review process. Since so much delay is attributed to local controversy and lack of support, it makes sense to design projects with significant public participation in order to build support and improve acceptance. Promote more public involvement in transportation plans.
- COORDINATION – Mandate better coordination among participating agencies. Direct state DOTs to work collaboratively with state and federal resource agencies, municipalities and other interested parties to develop environmentally sound transportation projects and plans. States can ensure participation by employing TEA-21’s under-utilized §1309(e), which authorizes compensation for resource agencies’ increased transportation project review workload.
- CLASSIFICATION – Properly classify projects for environmental review. Too often, problems in project reviews arise because transportation agencies seek to waive appropriate environmental review for a complex project with multiple impacts by classifying it as a Categorical Exclusion or Environmental Assessment. This often causes later legal or regulatory delay as critics seek to challenge a flawed administrative process.
- ALTERNATIVES AND IMPACTS – Effectively consider a wide variety of alternatives, as well as secondary, induced and cumulative impacts in project planning, design and review. The best process engages stakeholders in identifying partial build alternatives, travel demand management strategies, alternative investments, and other approaches to avoid or mitigate negative impacts. Build consensus for action by addressing broader stakeholder concerns, rather than imposing narrowly focused objectives on the community. Many delays, especially for controversial projects, arise when agencies have failed to effectively consider impacts on specific populations or neighborhoods, or the effects of transportation infrastructure projects on land use, travel behavior and public health.
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