Senator Jim Jeffords
Public Benefits and Project Delivery
September 19, 2002
Late yesterday President Bush issued an executive order on environmental stewardship and transportation – the exact topic of this hearing.
I read the order.
I am willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt on this enhanced federal coordination. The value of the order depends on how it is carried out.
I will be asking a number of questions about this order, and I expect that other Senators will be doing the same.
I want to point out to the reporters in the audience that the Executive Order is only a portion of the real story today. The men and women testifying today will be discussing successes that are already being made in improving transportation projects while protecting and enhancing the environment.
The real focus of today’s hearing is about understanding the multitude of factors that can affect the development and construction of a major transportation project. Transportation projects not only provide mobility; they bring about benefits for families, communities and the environment.
GAO will tell us that there can be up to 200 steps in four broad categories to completing a major transportation project. But it is more complicated than that. Charlie Hales, representing Portland, views this process “as governing with the consent of the governed.” He also says that Portland’s experience is that the best way to deliver quality projects is to “go through the planning process right the first time and only once.”
This approach is sometimes referred to as environmental stewardship. The goal of environmental stewardship should be to identify and meaningfully address project conflicts at the beginning of the planning process, not at the eleventh hour through litigation. The keys to better up-front planning include earlier involvement by stakeholders, more resources to facilitate that involvement and a better information base. Project stewardship will assure that we get the most out of each dollar spent.
Let us not forget these major projects are not just about building infrastructure – but also involve protecting and enhancing the natural and human environment. Thus, this hearing today is about how to get it right the first time – which can save billions, and even some lives.
I want to be sure that our discussion today is placed in the proper context. For instance, I was surprised to learn that only three percent of federally funded transportation projects even require an environmental impact statement. These very few major projects can take between nine and nineteen years to complete. But most projects require far less time.
It is also important to remember that when delay does occur, it can be caused by events throughout the delivery process - by right-of-way challenges, utility relocation problems, re-bidding, weather delays and construction change orders. As we look to improve the timeliness of project delivery, we should seek efficiencies at each stage.
I am concerned as well about quality, cost-effectiveness and honesty in project delivery. That is why I have asked the DOT Inspector General to testify today about the importance of other aspects of good project stewardship – keeping graft and corruption away from these huge construction contracts.
But I know that most of our attention has been focused on the environmental process. I agree with a very recent FHWA report which says that we must get beyond “environmental process bottlenecks” – and focus on practical solutions through integrated, concurrent planning and public input.
In 1999, as part of the last reauthorization, Congress directed the Secretary of US DOT to develop a coordinated environmental review process in conjunction with other federal resource agencies. Today, representatives of US DOT and US EPA will report on their progress in meeting that mandate.
Perhaps most notably, today, we will hear from practitioners from around the country, reporting on their efforts to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning and environmental process.
I am pleased to welcome Emily Wadhams, the Historic Preservation Officer from my home state of Vermont, who has helped pioneer cooperative efforts with our transportation agency.
I am also happy to welcome Carol Murray from my neighboring state and the home of Ranking Member Bob Smith. Carol is the Transportation Commissioner in New Hampshire and has led an innovative effort in that state to expand Interstate 93.
We are also joined today by witnesses for Florida and Portland, Oregon, and by a representative of the nation’s consulting engineers.
Throughout our reauthorization hearing process, we have asked our witnesses about lessons learned over the last ten years and about changing conditions that will confront us in the future. We have then asked the key question; how should we refine our program based on those lessons learned and those changing conditions. Today’s hearing will continue this approach.
Let me now introduce our witnesses:
Emil Frankel is the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Thank you for joining us here today Emil.
We also have John Peter Suarez, the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement & Compliance Assurance for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Also from US DOT is Kenneth Mead, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Ken advises the Secretary of Transportation and the Congress on the best practices and deficiencies found, and recommends ways to strengthen the management of DOT’s programs and operations. Thank you for joining us today Ken.
Kate Siggerud is also here with us today. Kate is the Acting Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues for GAO. For the past several years, Kate has directed GAO’s reviews of federal-aid highway program issues which includes the interaction between transportation and the environment.
New Hampshire Department of Transportation Commissioner Carol Murray. Thank you again for joining us today Carol.
Kenneth Morefield is the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Engineering for the Florida Department of Transportation. Ken is here with us today to testify on Florida’s advanced environmental review process. I have heard about the work that is being done in Florida and am happy to have you here today Ken.
Again, a welcome to Emily Wadhams from the state of Vermont. I look forward to hearing your testimony.
Hal Kasoff is Vice President with Parsons Brinckerhoff and is responsible for leadership of their highway sector. Hal will be speaking today on behalf of the American Council of Engineering Companies.
Finally, we have Charlie Hales, a highly respected Portland City Commissioner who joined HDR, Inc. as a Transit Planning Principal in May of 2002. Good to have you here Charlie.