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Monday, August 8, 2011

Accelerating Highway and Transit Project Delivery: Issues and Options for Congress

William J. Mallett
Specialist in Transportation Policy

Linda Luther
Analyst in Environmental Policy

Major highway and transit facilities can take somewhere on the order of 10 to 15 years to plan and build. The environmental review process required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal environmental laws and regulations is often cited as the main culprit for long delivery times. Available data and research, however, show that environmental review is typically not the greatest source of delay in surface transportation projects. Developing a community consensus on what to do, securing the funding, and dealing with affected residents and businesses, including utilities and railroads, also contribute to the long timelines required to complete certain projects.

Project delay can occur during any of the five main phases in delivering major highway and transit projects: planning; preliminary design and environmental review; final design; right-ofway acquisition and utility relocation; and construction. If it wishes to address project delay in the pending reauthorization of surface transportation projects, Congress has several options that might broadly affect all phases of project delivery in both highway and transit projects. Other possible options are targeted to specific issues that affect just one or two phases of a highway or transit project.

Broad options that Congress might consider for accelerating project delivery are: 

·         devolving federal surface transportation funding and the associated federal requirements back to the states; 
·         creating an office within the Department of Transportation responsible for expediting project delivery; 7
·         new initiatives for encouraging and rewarding collaboration between federal, state, and local agencies, such as a requirement in law for partnering plans, funding an awards program for outstanding collaboration, or creation of a special research and technical training center devoted to transportation project delivery. 
More narrowly tailored options for specific phases or modes include: 
·         certifying states to use their own procedures to protect dislocated property owners and tenants; 
·         reducing the number of steps in the public transit New Starts program and the elimination of the alternatives analysis that is often seen as a duplication of the requirements in NEPA; 
·         providing the Federal Transit Administration with the ability to “fast-track” New Starts projects that are low-risk; 
·         creation of an Integrated Planning Pilot Project, under the Special Experiment Program authority that currently exists for the Federal Highway Administration; 
·         making permanent the Surface Transportation Project Delivery Pilot Program and expanding it to allow delegation of NEPA authority for highway projects to any state.

Date of Report: August 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: R41947
Price: $29.95

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