The Federal Highway Administration earlier this month issued a final rule
that it says will expedite the delivery of certain highway projects by cutting red tape, while improving environmental outcomes under the National Environmental Policy Act process.
The new rule responds to President Obama's call for federal agencies to streamline and improve government services wherever possible and was required under the two-year MAP-21 surface transportation legislation enacted in mid-2012.
The rulemaking applies to projects built within an existing right-of-way where transportation already exists or projects that receive less than $5 million of federal funding. One complaint from infrastructure advocates has been that improvements to areas that already have existing infrastructure must go through a full-bore environmental impact analysis each time.
The new rule encourages project sponsors, and state and regional transportation authorities to build highway projects with fewer impacts so they can take advantage of the simpler process, which requires less documentation for qualified projects. The new rule could trim more than a year off the environmental review process in some cases, the DOT said.
"Time is money, and by cutting the time it takes to manage environmental reviews, we can help save communities money that they can put toward critical transportation projects," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
DOT officials explained that not all projects require the same rigorous environmental review process that is necessary for much larger projects.
The Federal Highway Administration has taken steps on its own to speed up the completion of highway construction projects. Last September, it launched "e-NEPA," an online collaboration tool which it expects to greatly reduce the time needed to complete the environmental review process for federally funded projects.
The new rules were jointly issued with the Federal Transit Administration.