I recently wrote about the big step that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has taken to streamline its major capital construction program. This new rule saves taxpayers time and money by moving promising transit projects through the New Starts/Small Starts program more quickly and with an improved evaluation process. But even with the new rule, FTA continues looking for ways to cut red tape.
And today, the FTA announced important revisions to its Environmental Review Process--the first review of its kind in 25 years.
All transit projects seeking Federal funds have to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA. NEPA is a very important law that makes sure planned transit projects don't adversely affect the local environment. But sometimes NEPA--while critically important--can make it difficult to get critical transit work moving very quickly.
The changes announced today will make the necessary environmental review process more efficient, while still ensuring that the environment and public heath are kept safe from harm. With these new changes, for example, a transit project planned for development in an existing transportation right-of-way would qualify for a less burdensome environmental review process than one that breaks all-new ground.
As FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff said, "These common-sense changes will allow communities to move projects from the drawing board to construction more quickly than in the past while making sure that we don’t compromise on protecting the environment.”
Last fall, Hurricane Sandy left major parts of the East without transit for days, weeks, and--in some cases--months. The storm waterlogged buses, warped rails, and flooded subway stations.
The changes announced today will make it possible to expedite $2 billion in emergency relief funds for Hurricane Sandy recovery in New York, New Jersey, and other affected states. That means that the bus, subway, commuter rail and ferries hit hardest by the storm will be able to get funds for repairs faster than expected.
Today’s changes are the result of the most comprehensive review of FTA’s environmental procedures since 1987 and are in line with provisions in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) that seek to expedite project delivery.
In 2011, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum and an Executive Order instructing departments to do all we could to make infrastructure development processes more efficient and effective and to “modify, streamline, expand, or repeal” rules that may be “outmoded, ineffective, insufficient, or excessively burdensome.”
That is exactly what these changes from FTA will do.
Delivering transit benefits faster even as we continue protecting the environment--that's a win-win I'm happy to support.