Categorical exclusion policy proving effective

Most major projects require environmental assessments (EA) or environmental impact statements (EIS). MAP-21 expanded use of categorical exclusions (CE), the least burdensome form of environmental review.

MAP-21 established two new CEs for projects:

  • within existing operational rights-of-way that receive less than $5 million of federal funds or with a total estimated cost of less than $30 million
  • where federal funds comprise less than 15% of total estimated cost.

“These two areas will prove quite effective in reducing costs and implementation time for many local projects,” says John Davis, PE, director of engineering services for the City of Denton, Texas. Davis is a long-time infrastructure advocate who has also testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on behalf of APWA.

In January 2014 the Government Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report, “Federal Highway Administration Could Further Mitigate Locally Administered Projects Risks.” It was done at the request of FHWA, which considers such projects an “agencywide, high-risk oversight area.” For FY 2012-13, 98% of locally administered federal aid projects were valued at less than $5 million. These, John Davis says, “could be categorical exclusions, provided other NEPA provisions don’t prevent such designation.”

To further speed project delivery, MAP-21 also increased the number of activities for which states could assume FHWA’s approval role. Kathleen Davis reports that this has indeed increased how quickly the Washington State DOT signs off on environmental reviews.

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