Environmental streamlining of the NEPA process
In this paper, we offer an option for streamlining the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 process for roadway projects. Section 1309 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century addresses concerns relating to delays in implementing roadway projects and directs federal agencies to streamline the environmental review process. Our objective for each of these projects was to produce a NEPA environmental document and an engineering design in a timely and cost effective manner.
The Georgia Department of Transportation and the City of Roswell, Fulton County, have contracted five of Kisinger Campo & Associates’ projects to include both the environmental document and the preliminary engineering/final design under one contract per project. These projects in Georgia include: two state routes (S.R. 53, Hall County and S.R. 140/Holcomb Bridge Road, Fulton County), two city streets (Whittlesey Road, Muscogee County and Old Alabama Road, Fulton County), and one Interstate highway interchange upgrade (I-75/Pate Road, Monroe County). Each of these projects is funded with state and federal monies.
The streamlined process of performing environmental studies and preliminary engineering at the same time at one transportation engineering firm has been beneficial for the clients in terms of time and cost savings through constant communication and coordination. For each of these projects, the right-of-way plans phase was not started until the Federal Highway Administration approved each NEPA document. With engineers, NEPA specialists, and environmental studies analysts under one roof, ongoing communication for these projects resulted in the early detection, avoidance, and minimization of impacts to historic properties, wetlands, longitudinal encroachments of streams, cemeteries, public parks, floodplains, and Section 4(f) properties. In these projects, after environmental specialists located a potential natural or cultural resource in the field, the engineers were immediately notified of them for further coordination and communication. This immediate field understanding of a project’s resources saved the engineers time because the plans were changed to accommodate the resources early in the project development. The time savings translated into cost savings, resulting in minimal delays, current plans reflecting the resources, a positive morale for the project team, and appreciation for the NEPA process. In addition, resource agencies and the transportation agencies were notified early about resources along project corridors and attended meetings to discuss alternatives, which facilitated their involvement. The streamlining process begins with trust and commitment from the transportation agency. Concurrent environmental and preliminary engineering project development also requires good communication among the environmental analysts, NEPA specialists, and design team. The streamlining of the NEPA process results in a successful transportation project that can efficiently utilize resources to meet the public’s needs in a timely manner.