Simply giving federal agencies the ability to complete regulatory reviews in a more efficient manner in no way guarantees that authority would be utilized, was the key message recently delivered to Congress by American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).
First Vice-Chair Nick Ivanoff, president and CEO of New York-based design firm Ammann & Whitney, testifying before the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law on the recently-introduced, Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development (RAPID) Act of 2013, explained that “reforming the environmental review process for transportation projects has been a 15-year evolution,” and he commended the bill’s authors for attempting to use lessons learned from the transportation infrastructure arena as a guide for similar reforms in other federal areas of responsibility.
“Reducing the amount of time it takes to deliver transportation improvements was first addressed in the  TEA-21 bill, which concentrated on establishing concurrent – as opposed to sequential – project reviews by different federal agencies,” Ivanoff said. “While this improvement was a step in the right direction, it had limited impact as concurrent reviews were discretionary, rather than mandatory.”
Congress built on this concept in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU bill by providing “lead agency” status for the U.S. Department of Transportation on project reviews as a means to request action by non-transportation agencies, as well as limitations on when lawsuits can be filed against projects.
“The combination of these two reforms created new levels of predictability for project review schedules and provided opportunities to shorten the approval process for needed transportation improvements,” he stated. “For this reason, subsequent reform efforts focused on not just providing additional tools to reduce delay, but also creating mechanisms to ensure, or at least encourage, the use of those tools.”
MAP-21 took project delivery reform even further, providing mandatory deadlines for permitting decisions and financial penalties for agencies that do not meet them. It also created new classes of “categorical exclusions,” allowing projects with minimal environmental impacts to avoid unnecessary multi-year reviews.
“ARTBA will not stop looking for further reforms to ensure transportation improvements are advanced as efficiently as possible, and the next step in our ongoing efforts in this area is to ensure the timely and full implementation of MAP-21’s project delivery provisions,” Ivanoff concluded.