Streamlining may be improving

News AASHTO Journal May 06, 2004
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Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters recently laid out approaches for protecting the environment, containing costs and del

Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters recently laid out approaches for protecting the environment, containing costs and delivering highway projects in testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Treasury.


Peters told Chairman Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member John Olver (D-Mass.) that as many as 40 different laws may influence approval of a highway construction project in an environmentally sensitive or historically significant area. That can add to delays in project delivery and ratchet up costs for both the federal government and states, she said.


Peters said the administration's Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003 addresses those hurdles by involving all applicable agencies early, and at one time, in the project process; determining if the agencies have the resources to conduct their preliminary work; and agreeing on a time frame.


The subcommittee held the hearing to review the FHWA's environmental streamlining management practices.


Because of a "lack of early cooperation" the current average for obtaining an environmental impact statement is 5 1/2 years, Peters said. FHWA would like to trim that average to three years.


Another hurdle to streamlining is the administrative culture among the different agencies, contributing to conflicting agendas. Proper staff training also is a way to improve project delivery and trim costs, Peters said.


Peters noted that about 6% of transportation projects accounting for 17% of total federal-aid obligations are advanced with an environmental assessment that results in a finding of no significant impact, which represent roughly 91% of the projects and 74% of the federal-aid funding. Such exclusions take about six months to process.


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