Accelerating Highway Project Delivery Under MAP-21

MAP-21, the federal surface transportation authorization passed by Congress in 2012, incorporates a series of provisions for accelerating transportation project delivery and streamlining an environmental review process, which some believe has become a major contributor to project delays. The provisions include many long sought by state departments of transportation and some that have already been part of an ongoing Federal Highway Administration initiative. This brief examines what was in the bill, why specific strategies for accelerating project delivery were emphasized, the arguments for and against them and what it could all mean for state governments and for the length of transportation projects going forward.

 

Executive Summary:

  • MAP-21, the federal surface transportation authorization passed by Congress in the summer of 2012, incorporates a series of provisions for accelerating transportation project delivery and streamlining an environmental review process, which some believe has become a major contributor to project delays. MAP-21 stands for Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, the name of the legislation.
  • Many of these provisions have long been sought by state departments of transportation. Some have been tried on a limited basis as part of previous authorizations and some have been encouraged by an ongoing Federal Highway Administration initiative called Every Day Counts.
  • A number of provisions seek to impact the environmental review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 and the common practices that are a part of it. These include:

    • Establishing new decision-making deadlines and fines;
    • Allowing the use of planning documents;
    • Expanding categorical exclusions for certain types of projects from environmental requirements;
    • Consolidating environmental paperwork;
    • Allowing state governments to assume federal responsibilities in the environmental act process;
    • Allowing early acquisition of rights-of-way prior to the completion of environmental requirements; and
    • Encouraging the development of programmatic mitigation plans to address the potential environmental impacts of future transportation projects on more than a project-by-project basis.
  • Among the MAP-21 project delivery provisions unrelated to the National Environmental Policy Act are those that encourage the use of innovative construction methods and technologies and contracting procedures.
  • MAP-21 sets a 180-day deadline for the conclusion of permitting decisions by federal agencies after the environmental review process has been completed and would extract penalties from those agencies for every week a project is not allowed to proceed. Transportation experts believe the new approach will encourage agencies at all levels of government to take stock of existing resources and set more realistic project timetables. Some in the environmental community worry such one-size-fits-all deadlines may lead to hasty reviews and bad project decisions.
  • MAP-21 allows the use of certain state, regional and metropolitan planning documents in environmental review proceedings. Transportation construction experts say that can reduce delay by avoiding duplication of effort and could produce greater buy-in among stakeholders. But others caution that bringing environmental review processes into planning would be a mistake and that statewide and regional planning documents shouldn’t be used to predetermine environmental decisions on individual projects because such documents seldom receive much public input.
  • MAP-21 allows federal agencies to issue a combined document that incorporates two documents required under the National Environmental Policy Act: the Final Environmental Impact Statement and the Record of Decision. Experts believe the document consolidation is one of the more concrete changes in MAP-21, which has the potential to improve efficiency and accelerate processes by reducing time and paperwork associated with environmental requirements.
  • MAP-21 allows certain transportation projects to be excluded from requirements related to environmental assessments or environmental impact statements under the National Environmental Policy Act, such as highways and bridges damaged in emergencies or projects receiving limited federal funds. Environmentalists argue these exclusions serve to limit public input. Others argue citizen participation must have limits or it can undermine good planning.
  • MAP-21 expands a pilot program created under SAFETEA-LU that allowed some states to assume certain federal environmental review responsibilities. California saw significant time savings from taking part in the pilot program. Some believe more states may be willing to take on the responsibilities under MAP-21, but others say it will likely depend on whether states see the potential for significant benefits.
  • MAP-21 allows states and metropolitan planning organizations to develop one or more programmatic mitigation plans to address the potential environmental impacts of future transportation projects. The plans—which can be developed on a regional, ecosystem, watershed or even statewide scale—have been shown to save time and money. Experts believe expanded use of such agreements have the potential for long-term benefits, but may not produce dramatic results in the short term.
  • MAP-21 gives government agencies added authority to acquire rights-of-way for transportation projects prior to the completion of the environmental review process. It allows for the use of federal and state funds for advanced purchase of rights-of-way on a project if there is agreement the review will not be affected. Early acquisition is part of an effort to have various aspects of transportation projects run concurrently rather than in a linear fashion which requires more time.
  • In MAP-21, Congress said it is in the national interest to promote the use of technology to improve the efficiency of construction and increase the safety and life of highways and bridges. 
  • Among the innovative practices mentioned in the bill is the use of prefabricated bridge elements and systems. The Federal Highway Administration has encouraged their use as part of its Every Day Counts initiative. Contractors can save time by assembling bridges in offsite, climate-controlled environments, thus limiting delays due to weather.
  • Other innovative construction equipment, materials and techniques encouraged in the legislation include in-place recycling, which involves rehabilitating road pavement by mixing in additional cement, and digital three-dimensional modeling technologies, which allow for faster, more accurate and more efficient planning and construction.
  • Intelligent compaction, another technique encouraged in the legislation, uses special vibrating rollers and other technologies to produce a more uniform, long-lasting road pavement with fewer passes than traditional static rollers, thus saving time.
  • MAP-21 encourages the use of innovative contracting methods. These include the design-build delivery method, in which one company assumes responsibility for both the design work and all construction activities; and the construction manager/general contractor method, in which the government agency has the option of continuing the relationship with the company contracted for the project design phase or choosing a different company for actual construction.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation is in the process of creating guidance and regulations to implement MAP-21 that will have a significant impact on how successful and useful the accelerating project delivery provisions may be. The way states interpret and use the legislation’s tools also will be important.
  • Most believe MAP-21 will not be the last word on accelerating project delivery. It will likely be on the agenda for the next authorization bill in 2014 and beyond. In the interim, states have the opportunity to demonstrate progress.

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Accelerating Highway Project Delivery Under MAP-21

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