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November 10, 2014
Docket Management Facility
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20590-0001
Re: Docket No. FHWA-2014-0031, Additional Authorities for Planning and Environmental Linkages
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 proposed rulemaking regarding additional authorities for planning and environmental linkages.
ARTBA’s membership includes private and public sector members 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 environmental review and approval process in the normal course of their business 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 transportation improvement projects. This document represents the collective views of our 6,000 member companies and organizations.
ARTBA has consistently supported the concept of using information gained during the transportation planning process during National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental reviews. Specifically, ARTBA advocated for the inclusion of provisions linking the planning process and NEPA reviews in the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21) reauthorization law and supports FHWA and FTA’s proposed rule.
For transportation projects, an extensive amount of information is gathered during the planning process, which often occurs prior to the actual triggering of NEPA requirements. Allowing information gathered during the planning process, to the extent it is still current and relevant, to satisfy NEPA requirements would limit duplicative reviews and reduce the amount of delay in the NEPA process. If current information is already available as the result of compliance with
transportation planning requirements, that information should satisfy NEPA regulations as well.
This would increase efficiency and maintain environmental protection. Duplicative reviews serve no redeeming purpose as part of the NEPA process, and should be eliminated wherever possible.
As FHWA and FTA move forward in implementing their proposed rule, ARTBA recommends the agencies focus on ensuring the process of using planning materials during NEPA review is on eliminating as much needless duplication of work as possible. One of the factors MAP-21 sets forward for planning materials being used during NEPA is whether “significant new information” has arisen since the planning product was created.
In determining whether or not “significant new information” has become available between the time of the planning document and NEPA, ARTBA recommends deference be given to the determination of the state project sponsor. Having gathered the original planning information, the state sponsor will be in the best position to know the reliability of the data and whether or not its use in the NEPA process is appropriate.
Also, in instances where “significant new information” is available, the agencies should develop a mechanism to update the original planning document, as opposed to creation of an entirely new document. This will allow needed updates to be made without requiring duplication of any portions of the document which are still up to date.
Perhaps most importantly, as with other planning decisions, the determination if “significant new information” precludes the use of a planning document during the NEPA process should not be reviewable by a court. Once an agency deems a planning document appropriate for use in the NEPA process, the door should not be left open to time-consuming litigation challenging that decision. To do otherwise could allow the threat of litigation to swallow any potential reductions in delay the proposed rule would achieve.
A clearinghouse highlighting the successful implementation of planning products into NEPA reviews should be established. This will allow state agencies to see where the integration of planning and NEPA products has been successful and replicate those efforts.
NEPA was never meant to be a statute enabling delay, but rather a vehicle to promote balance. While the centerpiece of this balancing is the environmental impacts of a project, other factors must be considered as well, such as the economic, safety, and mobility needs of the affected area and how a transportation project or any identified alternative will address those needs. By eliminating the requirement to needlessly duplicate regulatory documents, FHWA and FTA’s proposed rule, should help NEPA achieve this balance.
T. Peter Ruane
President & C.E.O