September 2017 Vol. 25, No. 3

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Integrating permitting processes speed up project delivery

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Every Day Counts is the FHWA’s initiative to advance a culture of innovation in the transportation community in partnership with public and private stakeholders. Every two years, FHWA works with state departments of transportation, local governments, tribes, private industry, and other stakeholders to identify a new set of innovative technologies and practices that merit widespread deployment through EDC. EDC-4 (2017–2018) builds on the progress of earlier rounds.

Many transportation projects require multiple federal permits and reviews to ensure agencies build them safely and responsibly and minimize impacts on communities and the environment. But securing those permits can add time and costs to the project delivery process.

Integrating National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and permitting processes—a strategy the FHWA is encouraging in Every Day Counts round four (EDC-4)—enables concurrent, synchronized environmental and permitting reviews. Synchronization provides for more effective and efficient reviews, leading to projects with reduced environmental impacts and time and money savings.

“Integrating NEPA and permitting is all about accelerating the permitting process,” said Gloria Shepherd, FHWA associate administrator for Planning, Environment, and Realty.

Fourteen states and Federal Lands Highway plan to demonstrate and assess tools to integrate NEPA and permitting processes in EDC-4. Another 15 plan to make integrating NEPA and permitting processes on projects a standard practice.

Integrating NEPA and permitting builds on earlier EDC efforts to streamline project processes through programmatic agreements to handle routine environmental requirements and improve collaboration and quality environmental documentation. The EDC-4 approach features proven best practices, data management, and tools to help agencies develop new or leverage existing integration practices and facilitate interagency coordination on projects.

One tool FHWA is promoting is eNEPA, an online system that supports timely, consistent coordination among agencies on permitting processes. The newest version, eNEPA 2.0, includes customizable workflows, improved document review functions, and a dashboard function.

Another tool is the 2015 Red Book: Synchronizing Environmental Reviews for Transportation and Other Infrastructure Projects. “The Red Book is the how-to guide on integrating and synchronizing projects,” said Mike Ruth, FHWA ecologist and leader of the EDC-4 team on integrating NEPA and permitting. “It’s one of the best resources if you’re considering improving the processes you have or developing something new. It has something for everyone.”

(Adapted from FHWA Innovator, July/August 2017)

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