STATEMENT OF SENATOR GEORGE V. VOINOVICH
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
PROJECT DELIVERY AND ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP
SEPTEMBER 19, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for conducting this hearing on project delivery and environmental stewardship. I have a unique perspective on this important issue due to my background as a former governor and mayor. In particular, as Governor, I witnessed first-hand the frustration of many state agencies because they were required to complete a myriad of federally-required tasks on every project they initiated.
My experience with this process led me to hold two hearings on project delivery and streamlining when I was Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Now, as the current ranking member of the Clean Air Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over NEPA, I am concerned that the amount of time it takes to develop and complete large construction projects has gotten even worse. Ten years ago, one Ohio group produced a chart entitled “So You Want to Build a Highway?” that showed an “eight-year hitch” required to develop a road project – and that’s before construction even begins.
On average, major transportation projects now take 13 years or more to get through the planning process, environmental reviews, design, and right-of-way acquisition. On those major projects, development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) takes, on average, more than five years to complete. Surely, there is room for improvement.
Environmental review is good public policy, and I know there are more efficient ways to ensure adequate and timely delivery of construction projects and still carefully assess environmental concerns.
As Chairman of the National Governors Association, I was involved in negotiating TEA-21 and lobbying for a streamlined project delivery process. Congress recognized the states’ frustration and enacted an environmental streamlining provision in TEA-21.
After arriving in the Senate in 1999, I called two Subcommittee hearings on implementation of environmental streamlining as contained in Section 1309 of TEA-21. At those hearings, I stressed the importance of implementing Section 1309 in a way that will streamline and expedite, not complicate the process of delivering transportation projects.
A year after these hearings and nearly two years after the passage of TEA-21, the Department of Transportation finally published it proposed regulations for the implementation of Section 1309 in May 2000. Many of us were disappointed with the length of time it took to develop these rules and with their content.
Unfortunately, the proposed rules were inconsistent with Congressional intent and would have done little, if anything, to streamline and expedite the states’ ability to meet their transportation needs. In fact, the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials, representing our customers – the state departments of transportation – and said that the proposal was “completely at odds” with Congressional intent.
Other groups, such as the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association all requested that the proposed rules be substantially rewritten. They were really a great disappointment. That is why I joined Senator Smith to introduce a bill in October 2000 that would have required the administration to revise and re-propose the rules.
Mr. Chairman, we are about to enter the last year of TEA-21, and we still do not have rules to implement the environmental streamlining provision of the law. I regret that we may have wasted an opportunity to realize the benefits of an expedited environmental review process that we envisioned five years ago.
Meeting our nation’s transportation needs is too important for us to wait until the next highway authorization bill before we get serious about streamlining. That is why we should do whatever is humanly possible to implement the environmental streamlining provision of TEA-21. Otherwise, I believe we will end up waiting several more years before we can see any substantial progress in reducing unnecessary delays on transportation projects.
In 1999, the Federal Highway Administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding with six other federal agencies and established a pilot program on environmental streamlining. I am eager to hear from the Department of Transportation as to whether the MOU or the pilot program has had an impact on reducing project delays. Most importantly, I would like to know why the Department has not issued a new rule on environmental streamlining and whether it intends to do so before TEA-21 expires next year.
However, last night the President did announce an Executive Order on Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews. Although it’s not a new rule, I appreciate the Administration’s recognition of the continued importance of environmental streamlining to improving our nation’s transportation system. I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses about this Executive Order and how effective it may be in improving project delivery.
Again, thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. I join you in welcoming each of the witnesses who have come to testify. I look forward to their testimony and to their answers to any questions that may follow.