ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING IN FLORIDA Florida’s ETDM Process: Efficient Transportation Decision Making While Protecting the Environment
The Florida Department of Transportation has developed a completely new process for how the State of Florida plans transportation projects and accomplishes environmental review and consideration of sociocultural effects. The new process for transportation decision making was developed by FDOT working in conjunction with federal and state agencies to develop an entirely new process that efficiently meets statutory requirements and delivers projects which respect and protect Florida’s resources. The new process is called “Efficient Transportation Decision Making” or the ETDM Process. The objectives of the multi-agency working group that developed this process were outlined by Congress in Section 1309 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21): • Provide early and continuous involvement of agencies and the public in the review process. • Integrate environmental review and permitting processes. • Establish coordinated time schedules for agency action. • Establish effective dispute resolution mechanisms. • Provide access to information through use of technology. FDOT assembled 23 federal and state agencies at the initial “summit” in February 2000 to ask for their support and commitment to develop this process. Summit participants developed a “vision statement” for the new process. Their agencies then participated in a series of multi-agency meetings to identify the elements of a process that would improve efficiency (early involvement, easy access to good data, continuous agency and community involvement, teamwork, a method to screen projects early, and an effective method for handling disputes). Early agency involvement is provided through two “screening” events, which occur early in project planning and before significant engineering work proceeds. These events are the “Planning Screen” and the “Programming Screen.” Agency input received early in planning may identify the need for wildlife crossings, community-expressed concerns or other needs for reconfiguration of a project to avoid or minimize adverse effects. This early awareness improves the project cost estimates, which can affect project priorities. Coordination is achieved through Environmental Technical Advisory Teams (ETATs) which are formed for each of the seven FDOT districts. ETAT members review project information and provide input about technical scopes of work required for project development. These focused scopes of work are expected to improve the quality of information considered and will allow the FDOT to address key issues of concern. All coordination is achieved using the Environmental Screening Tool (EST). This is an Internet-accessible interactive database system with GIS which allows ETAT members and the public to view project plans and the effects on resources. Stakeholder input is documented in the EST and visible to all parties involved in transportation decision making. The EST is described more fully in a companion paper. A key provision in the ETDM Process is that disputed projects do not advance to the FDOT Work Program until dispute resolution has occurred. A methodology for resolving disputes is built into the new process and focuses problem resolution at the local level where consultation among ETAT members is expected to resolve most disputes prior to elevation within agencies.