Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining
A few days after President Richard M. Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), Federal Highway Administrator Francis C. "Frank" Turner addressed a highway interest group. Speaking about NEPA, he said: "Our Nation—whether in its cities or its rural areas—cannot live without transportation, and highways provide the overwhelming proportion of that transportation. But highways can and must be made compatible with and enhance the environment, at the same time that they provide essential transportation service."
His words remain a clear summary of what the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is all about. Since the environmental movement became part of the national way of thinking in the 1960s, FHWA has been evolving, along with all other sectors of society, so we can protect the environment while continuing to deliver a resilient and effective transportation system.
When I became Administrator in October 2001, we identified environmental stewardship and streamlining as one of the FHWA "vital few" priorities (along with safety and congestion mitigation). These priorities are "must do's" for the agency because each one is at the heart of our mission to meet the public's expectations about transportation.
Given how easily debate about important public issues can become polarized, I'm not surprised that environmental streamlining and environmental stewardship sometimes are discussed as if they were code words—as if "streamlining" means shortchanging the review process and "stewardship" means studying projects to death or adding unnecessary, high-cost environmental features. In fact, environmental stewardship and streamlining are intertwined; we must deliver both. The American public expects Federal, State, and local governments to provide highway, transit, and bicycle/pedestrian improvements that are environmentally sound, that are safe, and that maintain our standard of mobility that is envied by the world. In a joint effort with the Federal Transit Administration, we are doing that.
As illustrated by this special issue of Public Roads, FHWA and its Federal, State, and local partners are employing multiple, creative approaches to synchronize stewardship and streamlining. In this issue, you can read about President George W. Bush's Executive Order on Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews, the FHWA initiatives with State transportation departments on streamlining NEPA reviews, and our promotion of context-sensitive design. Other articles discuss such topics as development of transportation projects in delicate ecosystems, mitigation of noise impacts, reclamation of brownfields, making bicycling and walking safer and more practical, and how States can excel in meeting NEPA and other environmental requirements. We also highlight the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Center for Environmental Excellence.
Collectively, these articles illustrate our commitment to be leaders in transportation, pursuing environmental stewardship and mobility, delivered in a timely way to the American public. As President Bush stated in the Executive order, doing so "is essential to the well-being of the American people and a strong American economy."
Mary E. Peters
Federal Highway Administrator