February 15, 2011

Highways and Transit Panel Receives Testimony on Speeding up Transportation Delivery Process

Washington, D.C. – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit today held a hearing on “Accelerating the Project Delivery Process:  Eliminating Bureaucratic Red Tape and Making Every Dollar Count.”

Below is the opening statement of U.S. Representative Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), Democratic Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, as prepared for delivery:

Statement of the Honorable Peter A. DeFazio
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Highways and Transit
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Hearing on
“Accelerating the Project Delivery Process:  Eliminating Bureaucratic Red Tape and Making Every Dollar Count”

February 15, 2011

We’re here today to discuss the project delivery process and how to eliminate red tape to deliver transportation projects more quickly, thereby reducing congestion and saving money.  I have long been frustrated by a Federal process that seems more and more to focus on the process itself and less on outcomes.  In particular, when it comes time for Federal agencies to play their role in approving permits and signing off on a project through the consultation process it seems a project can get held up for months while the paperwork gets shifted from desk to desk.  NEPA is far from perfect and today we have the opportunity to explore issues surrounding NEPA and other parts of the project delivery process.

With that said, NEPA isn’t the boogeyman it’s often made out to be.  The environmental review process is just one aspect of the overall project delivery process.  Too many times “NEPA” is the default answer to explain a project delay, when other factors, such as lack of funding, are to blame.  For instance, according to data from a FHWA survey one of the main causes of delays is a lack of funding and/or the project was a low priority for the sponsor (32.5 percent).  A local controversy surrounding the project or project complexity combined to be the main reasons for delay 29 percent of the time.  Furthermore, less than one percent of projects (only .3 percent) in a given year require a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) while 96 percent of projects are granted a Categorical Exclusion (CE).

While protecting our environment is a significant goal of NEPA, it isn’t just about the environment.  It’s also about protecting communities and giving the public a voice in proposed transportation projects.  Forty years ago a state DOT might have built a freeway right through a community without any thought given to the harm that it might cause residents.  Today, in large part because of NEPA, the residents and businesses in that neighborhood have a formal role to play in approving that project and can help shape alternatives to avoid needlessly cutting their community in two.  In many cases NEPA is the only way a community can learn about a project and have a voice.

The answer isn’t to eliminate NEPA, but to improve the process so that important environmental issues are raised early and duplicative processes are eliminated.  For instance, when you’re building a project like a streetcar in the existing roadway, that project should be deemed a Categorical Exclusion right from the get go.  There’s no reason for an Environmental Assessment or even to spend a possible six months on paperwork to get the “CE” when it’s fairly obvious that a transit project in an existing roadway will have a net positive benefit on the environment.

SAFETEA-LU made a lot of improvements to NEPA and has significantly reduced the time it takes to deliver a project.  For example, prior to SAFETEA-LU it took on average 73 months to complete an EIS.  Since SAFETEA-LU was enacted that has been reduced to 43 months and EIS are only required a small percentage of the time. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about how we can improve upon the successes of SAFETEA-LU in the next surface transportation authorization in order to help states and cities deliver more projects in less time and for less money.

Thank you.