Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy
Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate
Thursday, September 19, 2002
Mr. Chairman, it is my pleasure to appear before the Committee today to present the views of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) concerning the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). This Committee is to be commended for the extensive hearings that have been held in preparation for legislative action next year.
Florida’s natural resources and pristine environment are what make us unique among the states. We are indeed fortunate to be home to the Nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, the Nation’s largest restoration project in history, America’s Everglades, and some of the most endangered large terrestrial and marine mammals in the world. It is the policy of the Florida Department of Transportation to help preserve and enhance Florida’s natural, physical, cultural and social environment as we develop, implement and maintain transportation facilities and services.
My testimony today will address “Project Delivery and Environmental Stewardship”. Section 1309 of TEA-21 has provided the impetus for state and federal agencies to look for ways to improve the delivery of transportation projects while protecting our environment. The Federal Highway Administration along with the Federal Transit Administration have worked with us and many other federal, state, and local agencies to develop a new process we call the “Efficient Transportation Decision Making Process” or “ETDM”. I am pleased to report that we are virtually finished developing the new process. Training on the new process is scheduled to begin in January 2003 with completion by the end of June. We expect to begin full statewide implementation by July 2003.
This new process has not been developed by the Florida Department of Transportation working in isolation. It began on February 3, 2000 when over twenty federal, state, and local agencies met and pledged their support of an effort to examine how transportation decisions are made in Florida and to develop an improved process. A multi-agency working group including representatives of Metropolitan Planning Organizations was then formed and met several times during the year. Later, nine Task Work Groups worked on specific issues related to implementation of the new process.
In December 2001, federal, state, and local agencies gathered at an “Executive Summit” and signed a Memorandum of Understanding endorsing the ETDM process and pledging their continued support for the full development and implementation of the process in Florida. I am equally proud of the assistance we received from one of our environmental organizations, 1000 Friends of Florida, as they hosted five meetings around the state to explain the process to non-governmental organizations.
We believe our ETDM process is fully responsive to the direction of Section 1309 and the National Environmental Policy Act. We have been pleased to brief your Committee staff and others on our process, but we do not promote it as one that will fit every state. In fact, Florida’s environmental laws, our own mix of state and local agencies, and other differences led us to an early conclusion that the best way to address improved project delivery and efficient decision making was within our own efforts, and not through a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Section 1309 of TEA-21 called for change. Key changes requested by Congress included:
· Early and continuous agency and public involvement
· Integrated environmental review and permitting processes
· Early approvals in the planning process
· Coordinated time schedules for agency involvement
· Effective dispute resolution mechanisms
Florida’s ETDM process accomplishes all these objectives and more. The State of Florida is fortunate to have a very rich database of information about our resources. We have collected that information at the University of Florida GeoPlan Center in Gainesville, Florida. This high technology digital database tool allows agencies and the public to access project planning information over the Internet. It provides the foundation for our ETDM process and is called the “Environmental Screening Tool”.
This tool enables us to perform two “screening events” which document agency and community inputs much earlier in our transportation planning process. We call these screening events the “Planning Screen” and the “Programming Screen”. Modification of project plans in response to these early screening events will enable us to avoid or reduce costly changes late in the process. These screening events will provide information that will allow agencies to be engaged in the thoughtful exchange necessary to properly balance land use, environmental protection and mobility needs.
The primary purpose for the “Planning Screen” is to provide decision makers with better information to stage transportation improvements in the Cost Feasible Long Range Transportation Plan. The “Programming Screen” provides an opportunity to identify project issues and the need for technical studies prior to the project advancing into our Work Program. The NEPA process begins at the “Programming Screen” with a class of action determination that leads to environmental documentation and construction permits. A fundamental premise of our process is that it builds upon earlier analyses rather than reopening all issues at every step of the process.
The screening events will be performed by federal, state, and local agencies working together as an Environmental Technical Advisory Team. We will have one team in each of our seven geographic Districts. Each team will be responsible for agency review and feedback as projects are developed. Community Outreach Coordinators within FDOT will seek input from the affected community and post the input received so that agencies are aware of community concerns.
Project planning information is entered into the Environmental Screening Tool by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (or by FDOT for our rural areas). Standardized analyses will then be performed on these planned projects and the results are then made available to agencies through the Internet. All agencies will perform their reviews on a coordinated time schedule and enter the agencies’ official comments about the impact on the resources protected by their agency. The agency will be able to suggest changes to project concepts through the feedback portion of the database system. At the same time, the opinions of the affected community are also posted in the feedback portion of the system. The results are visible to the agencies, non-governmental organizations and the public. Everyone will have access to the same information.
In summary, Florida is about to implement a new way of doing business. We believe the Efficient Transportation Decision Making Process meets all the objectives this Committee set forth in TEA-21. We are convinced that this new process will provide for earlier and concurrent agency reviews resulting in a reduction in the time required to plan projects and achieve earlier permit approval. Further benefits include improved public participation in the transportation planning process, a reduction in the cost of planning and building projects, and, most importantly, improved decisions.
Thank you for the opportunity to share Florida’s efforts on project delivery and environmental stewardship. I will be pleased to address any questions you may have.
ATTACHMENT (.pdf file)