PHOENIX – When the Arizona Department of Transportation installs a digital message board, rehabilitates a bridge, renovates a rest area or takes on similar work that makes up nearly all of its projects requiring compliance with federal environmental regulations, the speed of completion can depend in part on coordination with and review by multiple federal agencies.
Recognizing that states can comply with federal environmental requirements on their own while streamlining processes, a new agreement assigns ADOT environmental review authority and responsibility for many projects found to not have significant environmental impacts. A Memorandum of Understanding signed Wednesday by ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration applies to projects commonly referred to as Categorical Exclusions.
“Governor Ducey has challenged state agencies to eliminate red tape and work at the speed of business, and this agreement allows ADOT to accomplish both,” said Dallas Hammit, ADOT state engineer and deputy director for transportation. “We can manage projects more efficiently while continuing to meet strict environmental requirements.”
Congress recognized the benefits of such agreements with legislation creating a program known as CE Assignment to expedite environmental review. This allows a state to assume decision-making and legal responsibility for meeting requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal environmental laws otherwise administered by the Federal Highway Administration for projects qualifying as Categorical Exclusions. Alaska, California, Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas and Utah have taken or are pursuing similar action.
To qualify as Categorical Exclusions projects must not significantly affect air, noise or water quality, natural, cultural, recreational, historic or other resources, planned growth or land use, or travel patterns. They also must not require the relocation of significant numbers of people. Categorical Exclusions may require additional environmental analysis and coordination to confirm whether the designation is appropriate.
Other examples of projects that can qualify as Categorical Exclusions include rehabilitating highways, installing ramp meters, adding landscaping, installing utilities along and across highways, and installing fencing, pavement markings, traffic signals and railroad warnings.
ADOT is developing a second Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Highway Administration under what’s known as the NEPA Assignment Program for highway projects that require either an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement. That agreement is expected to be in place later this year.