Better Roads Staff
Let’s Just Call it Half a Loaf
Reauthorization funding is uncertain, but reform looks good
By John Latta
Detailed proposals for a new surface transportation bill have finally surfaced, and two keys factors have dominated their presentation. It’s about funds, and it’s about reform.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (actually the Republicans on that committee) have delivered a proposal, and the Senate (actually the Democrat at the helm of the Environment and Public Works Committee) has counter-proposed. The House version offers $230 billion over six years; the Senate $109 billion over two years. There is plenty of reform in both versions and they have generally been welcomed across the board. But the House’s funding total has also almost universally been criticized as woefully inadequate.
So, the battle for funding will go on, as will the debate about how much reform without adequate funding will benefit our industries. But if there is any good news, it is that the reforms put forward will probably be in any new legislation if and/or when it happens. So the key proposed reforms are worth looking at.
The House version’s key proposals include:
1. More efficient environmental reviews. It:
• condenses the final environmental impact statement and combines it with the record of decision;
• provides a single system to review decisions and reduce bureaucratic delay by requiring concurrent reviews and setting deadlines for approvals; and
• classifies projects in the right-of-way as categorical exclusions under NEPA.
2. Clarification of eligibility for pre-construction activities. It:
• allows for acquisition of land during NEPA where the transaction itself does not cause a change in the area’s land use or cause adverse environmental effects;
• encourages corridor preservation to reduce project costs, delays, and impacts on communities; and
• allows detailed design prior to NEPA completion at state expense, making such work eligible for federal reimbursement only if the project is subsequently approved.
3. Promotion of integrated planning and programmatic approaches. It:
• builds on the efforts in Section 6001 of SAFETEA-LU and allows environmental decisions made in the planning process to be carried forward into the NEPA process; and
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