e-NEPA Aims to Streamline Environmental Reviews
Transportation agencies at the Federal, State, and local levels are dedicated to balancing transportation planning and infrastructure needs with environmental protection. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) established regulations and processes for project planning and implementation to ensure that environmental impacts and sustainability are considered in transportation projects. However, producing the necessary documentation can be time and labor intensive and the multiagency collaboration often required by NEPA processes can be challenging and, at times, inefficient.
The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Every Day Counts (EDC) initiative encourages mainstream adoption of innovations and processes to reduce project delivery times and improve safety. An innovation chosen for the third round of EDC seeks to improve the NEPA process and expedite project delivery with a realtime tool for electronic collaboration. The tool, known as e-NEPA, enables State departments of transportation to share documents, track comments, and schedule tasks with participating agencies, and perform concurrent reviews for their projects.
Experience has shown that concurrent agency reviews and quality documentation significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the NEPA decisionmaking process. e-NEPA is an online workspace and collaboration forum that helps agencies transition to an electronic review process, facilitating more effective interagency dialog in real time.
Although timely document sharing is an important part of e-NEPA, the tool is much more than a file transfer system. Developers designed e-NEPA to facilitate collaborative aspects of the transportation project development process, particularly for complex projects that require environmental assessments and environmental impact statements. Custom workflows enable project managers and planners to post project schedules; invite, collect, and share comments on documents; post due dates; and display project statuses.
“e-NEPA users can exchange documents, comments, and information in real time to allow concurrent reviews of documents and decisionmaking,” says Bill Ostrum of FHWA’s Office of Project Development and Environmental Review. “The tool also tracks and organizes the decisionmaking process, enabling project managers to dedicate their time where it’s most needed, ensuring an effective and efficient review process.”
e-NEPA helps build the project record, a critical part of the decisionmaking process. The record includes decision notes, public comment letters, minutes of meetings, records of phone and email communications, and documentation of public involvement efforts, as well as drafts and circulated copies of environmental assessments and environmental impact statements. e-NEPA can help project managers create this record through automatic organization of collaboration that takes place within the Web tool.
Piloting the Project
Five States tested e-NEPA as part of a pilot: Arizona, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. Other U.S. Department of Transportation modal administrations, such as the Federal Transit Administration and Federal Railroad Administration, also are participating in e-NEPA testing and using the tool for selected projects.
Melanie Vance, an environmental engineer with the Washington State Department of Transportation, participated in the e-NEPA pilot for her agency’s Local Programs Office. “Many of our Federal partners are not allowed to use file transfer sites, so on past projects I have had to send out CDs with documents for review,” she says. “e-NEPA’s file sharing capabilities enabled us to coordinate within WSDOT and with others so we can easily share and review those documents from one common platform.”
As part of the third round of EDC, FHWA staff members attended seven regional summits in late 2014 to promote e-NEPA and work with State departments of transportation to expand its use. FHWA will work with individual users to discuss how best to implement e-NEPA in their States and to set up training sessions with their project partners.
Streamlining NEPA project approval is a core need for the transportation community--to save time and money while improving the quality of NEPA documents. e-NEPA enables collaborative, concurrent, timely, and transparent interagency communication and review to meet those goals and to shorten project delivery times.
For more information about e-NEPA, contact Bill Ostrum at 202–366–4651 or email@example.com.
Carrie Boris is a contributing editor for Public Roads.