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U.S. DOT Streamlines Environmental Review Process for Transit Projects
On February 7, 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation published revisions to the environmental review process for transit projects seeking federal funding. These revisions, which target the federally mandated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process, are expected to reduce costs and streamline the project delivery process. They also encourage on-line posting of environmental review documents, as well as consideration of environmental impacts earlier in the planning process.
Broadly speaking, the reforms allow for a tiered review of projects. Those with a greater potential for environmental impacts, such as transit projects proposed in greenfield areas, will undergo a more rigorous review, while transit projects proposed within existing transportation rights-of-way will face a less-thorough review process. The new rulemaking implements this reform by adding ten new classes of projects that qualify as "categorical exclusions." These projects are considered to not have significant environmental impacts and are automatically exempted from more time-consuming forms of review under NEPA. It also modifies the list of project types that typically require the preparation of an environmental impact statement, the most thorough form of review under NEPA. These reforms are consistent with the environmental streamlining provisions of Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), the federal transportation reauthorization bill passed last July.
In related news, the Federal Transit Administration recently approved changes to the project review process for the New Starts and Small Starts programs. These revisions include the introduction of new evaluation criteria, as well as a streamlined application process. The discretionary New Starts and Small Starts programs are the largest federal funding source for transit projects, providing funds for the construction of new fixed-guideway systems and the extension of existing fixed-guideway systems.