The Road to NEPA Assignment
Ohio Department of Transportation’s Desire to Participate in FHWA's NEPA Assignment Program
Section 6005(a) of the SAFETEA-LU (and updated by MAP 21) established a Surface Transportation Project Delivery Program that allows the Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation to assign, and a State to assume, the USDOT Secretary's responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321, et seq.) and all or part of the USDOT Secretary's responsibilities for environmental review, consultation, or other action required under any Federal environmental law with respect to one or more highway projects within the State.
The Ohio Department of Transportation is partnering with the Federal Highway Administration Ohio Division to develop an application of participation in this program. This site is dedicated to those efforts.
- ODOT would accept the Assignment of the USDOT Secretary’s responsibilities for all NEPA document types (CE, EA and EIS) and all environmental regulations/laws (Section 4(f), Section 106, etc.)
Benefits of Assignment:
- CALTRANS reported a 30% time savings in project delivery after Assignment and TXDOT estimated a 25% time savings to their program as well. ODOT would expect a significant time savings for all larger projects as a result of the Assignment, similar to what these states have experienced/expect.
- For ODOT, our program is smaller than both of these states, but all of our larger projects require multiple FHWA reviews/actions and smaller projects have many supporting documents that require FHWA action. For example: in 2013 ODOT submitted the following to FHWA:
- 29 Section 4(f) actions,
- 3 Environmental Assessments
- 2 Environmental Impact Statements/FEIS
- 7 Categorical Exclusions
- 30+ (approximate) miscellaneous environmental reports (Environmental Justice, Section 106, Purpose and Need, Feasibility Studies, Public Involvement activities/reports, etc.), and
- Dozens of meetings and discussions on many projects.
- Each of the above documents required approximately 30 days for review plus additional time for coordination, revisions, etc.
- ODOT estimates a $45 million dollar savings to ODOT’s program as a result of NEPA Assignment.
- ODOT’s largest projects have continued coordination and review by FHWA. Most of these projects undergo multiple coordination points and involve FHWA’s review and approval on many elements.
Risks to ODOT from the Assignment of FHWA’s Environmental responsibilities
Not many changes are expected:
- Staff is already specialized and heavily trained. For the most part, ODOT has more experienced staff than FHWA in all the disciplines. So, no new costs in training or education are expected.
- ODOT is already performing the reviews today, so no changes to staff levels are expected.
- ODOT has only received 3 NEPA lawsuits in the past 10 years, so we don’t expect that this will result in a higher degree of challenges.
- If ODOT would lose a lawsuit, the risk to the Department is project stoppage, just as it would be with FHWA. (In addition, cost to defend a lawsuit is federal reimbursable as a project cost.)