ROADS/BRIDGES: FHWA rule could let DOTs streamline more projects with limited environmental impact

June 6, 2016

A new policy would allow state DOTs to negotiate infrastructure improvements as "categorical exclusions" from environmental review requirements

In a new regulatory policy stance, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) may provide more flexibility to state departments of transportations when those DOTs seek to exclude infrastructure improvements from detailed environmental reviews before the work can go forward.

The rule change would effectively allow the FHWA and state DOTs to negotiate additional project maintenance or upgrade activities to count as potential "categorical exclusions" (CEs) from environmental review requirements, beyond an already approved but limited list of CEs the FHWA allowed up to now. The change takes effect June 30.

Shannon Eggleston, program director for environment at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), said AASHTO had sought the change on behalf of state DOTs, which can use the CEs to streamline projects for faster completion at the lowest cost.

She noted that although the MAP-21 surface transportation legislation in 2012 allowed the FHWA to expand its allowable exclusions, the agency had since held to a list of about two dozen project types—already specified in regulation—that would qualify to avoid lengthy environmental reviews.

Eggleston said the new FAST Act, which authorized funding and programs through 2020, also allows the FHWA to expand the number of CEs so that states could proceed with construction, maintenance and infrastructure replacement projects in more areas without first going through detailed reviews, if that work would not have significant environmental impacts. However, it would take a new implementing regulation from the FHWA to put that change into effect.

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