Better Roads Staff
Mapping MAP-21’s Reforms
MAP-21, our brand-new surface transportation legislation, includes several significant changes to the review and approval process for transportation projects, all of which have the potential to change, and hopefully benefit the way agencies and contractors work. There would seem to be a combination of potential opportunities and potential bumps in the road in the legislation. But overall MAP-21’s reforms do seem to deliver more of the former.
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) analysis of the legislation delightedly points out that the new law deliver some of the organization’s long-held priorities in reforming the review and approval process, to wit, greater “lead agency authority” for the U.S. DOT and the integration of the planning and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes.
And, says ARTBA, changes allow state and federal agencies to “undertake a review process which is far less time consuming without weakening existing environmental protections.” In other words to speed up some legendarily slow processes.
To cite just one example from the ARTBA analysis: “MAP-21 allows for the expanded use of the categorical exclusion (CE) process, the least rigorous form of environmental review, in a number of additional areas. CEs may now be used for: projects within an existing right-of-way; certain components of multi-modal projects; repair and reconstruction of existing roads, highways and bridges; projects damaged by natural disaster; and projects receiving minimal federal funds.”
The new law expands SAFETEA-LU’s efforts to delegate responsibilities to states by allowing all states to assume control of either CEs or the entire environmental review process, says the organization. “MAP-21 narrows the 180-day time limit to file lawsuits on a project decision started in SAFETEA-LU to 150 days. Further, the law establishes time limits on permitting decisions.”
• Removes the ban on using Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds on projects that add new highway capacity for single occupancy vehicles;
• CMAQ funds can now be spent on projects involving retrofitting diesel-powered construction equipment with newer, cleaner engines;
• The Secretary of Transportation must complete an annual online report on all projects for which federal funds were obligated;
• Establishes a Transportation Alternatives program that dedicates two percent of the amounts provided to states by formula for activities including bike and pedestrian trails; safe routes for children and individuals with disabilities; abandoned rail conversions; community improvement activities and environmental mitigation activities. The two percent is a $300 million reduction from the cumulative funds provided annually for these activities under SAFETEA-LU;
• Requires the development of updated national bridge and tunnel inspection standards, including penalties for states that remain non-compliant, and a training program for bridge and tunnel inspectors.
• Broadens the existing list of activities that constitute a “highway safety improvement project” to include: activities to maintain minimum levels of retroreflectivtiy; geometric improvements to roadways for safety purposes; roadway safety audits; roadway safety infrastructure improvements to assist older drivers; truck parking facilities; and systemic safety improvements; and
• Allows project sponsors the option of acquiring property necessary for a project prior to the completion of NEPA reviews.
“The short answer, most likely, is ‘no.’”
David Goldberg, communications director for Transportation for America (T4A) answering his own question (“Is it a bellwether for transportation votes in other states and metros?”) after a vote in Atlanta to reject an $8 billion tax to fund road and transit projects.
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