BPC submitted comments in response to a Request for Information issued by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to solicit feedback on how the agency should deploy Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding to improve environmental reviews. Drawing from BPC’s on permitting, the comments recommend several actions FHWA should take to build upon prior reforms while maintaining a focus on public engagement and environmental protection.
Specifically, the comments recommend that FHWA:
- Encourage greater use of promising strategies, such as programmatic approaches rather than project-by-project reviews; the assignment program by which states assume more responsibility for environmental reviews; categorical exclusions that allow for a simplified process for projects with minimal environmental impact; and “Dig Once” policies that encourage coordination across sectors to accomplish multiple goals while minimizing delays.
- Provide new templates and tools, such as standard language for memorandums of understanding between states and the federal government and mapping tools to assist communities in early identification of sensitive areas.
- Increase transparency by developing a public database of all environmental actions taken or in progress for highway, rail, and transit projects, including the dates of key milestones and links to relevant documents.
- Coordinate with other federal agencies to expand use of the government-wide Permitting Dashboard and develop a single federal platform for submitting and sharing environmental documents.
- Provide grants to fund early public engagement with local leaders and community members to build consensus around the scope and design of projects.
- Create a challenge fund to support innovative activities at the state or local level to catalyze long-term improvements in permitting.
These actions would build upon the permitting reforms enacted in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, and, most recently, the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, and would empower state and local agencies to more efficiently deliver cleaner, safer, and more resilient transportation for their communities.
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