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February 15, 2011 - ASCE Statement - Accelerating the Project Delivery Process

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Statement of
The American Society of Civil Engineers
“Accelerating the Project Delivery Process”
United States House of Representatives
Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on
Highways and Transit

February 15, 2011

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)1 would like to commend the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit for holding a hearing today on how infrastructure investment can be expedited through reforming the project planning and delivery processes. The Society is pleased to present to the Committee our views on how these processes can best be reformed.

ASCE is concerned with the increasing deterioration of America’s infrastructure, reduced investment for the preservation and enhancement of our quality of life, and with the threatened decline of U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace. In response, ASCE has not only issued multiple Report Cards on the condition of infrastructure, but has sought to advance solutions that provide for a clean and safe quality of life, as well as fuel economic growth.

ASCE’s 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure graded the nation’s infrastructure a “D” based on 15 categories (the same overall grade as ASCE’s 2005 Report Card), and stated that the nation needs to invest approximately $2.2 trillion from 2009 – 2014 to maintain the national infrastructure in a state of good repair. In the Report Card, the nation’s surface transportation system included roads receiving a grade of “D-”, bridges receiving a grade of “C”, and transit receiving a grade of “D”. With nearly one-third of roads in poor or mediocre condition, a quarter of the nation’s bridges either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and transit use increasing to its highest levels in 50 years, it is not hard to see why the nation’s surface transportation system is in a state of critical decline. Additionally, to bring just these three surface transportation categories up to an acceptable condition would require a five year investment of $1.2 trillion, according to ASCE estimates. If the nation continues to under invest in infrastructure and ignores this backlog until systems fail, we will incur even greater costs. As Congress begins the process of developing a comprehensive multi-year surface transportation authorization bill, and as President Obama discusses the administration’s hope to invest billions on the nation’s infrastructure, our roads, bridges, and transit systems continue on in a state of decline. In order to rectify the current infrastructure crisis ASCE urges increased federal leadership in infrastructure investment and urges the creation of strategies to expedite the
regulatory process for infrastructure projects at the federal, state and local levels. The goal must be to allow critical infrastructure projects to proceed in a timely manner in order to achieve their intended outcomes, so the nation’s long-term economic vitality and quality of life will not be maintained.

ASCE supports a review of existing surface transportation programs to determine how reforms could be implemented to create a smaller, more efficient number of programs to expedite project decision making and delivery. Inefficient regulatory approval processes delay implementation of needed infrastructure improvements. Delays and changes in project scopes increase costs and adversely affects the safety and economic benefits of a project. Federal, state and local regulations that are intended to achieve beneficial individual goals may, significantly delay approval due to conflicting stakeholder objectives and have a negative impact on the development and renewal of the nation’s infrastructure. Stakeholder expectations and acceptable outcomes need to be identified early in the regulatory process and integrated into the project effectively.

To accelerate the process through which surface transportation projects are examined for their viability and appropriateness, several issues could be addressed through legislation. ASCE recommends the following strategies to streamline the regulatory process for infrastructure development:

• Revamp and simplify the regulatory regime affecting infrastructure funding, planning and implementation to eliminate modal “silos,” to be less prescriptive and confining and to be more performance-based and flexible.
• Reform the rules to be more concise, outcome oriented, plainly written, common sense oriented, and supplemented by best practice models that encourage continuous improvement.
• Require only the application of relevant Federal guidelines to specific projects. Though other Federal guidelines may exist, if they are extraneous and would only slow the project decision making process, they should not be utilized.

Additionally, ASCE supports mandating concurrent reviews and the designation of a single administrative processing/permitting agency to shorten and improve the approval process.

Furthermore, State and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) transportation planning requirements need to be reconciled with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process to eliminate redundancy and streamline the decision making process. This should be combined with better coordination of federal agencies in the NEPA process. While, NEPA seeks to improve environmental outcomes by enforcing comprehensive disclosure or expected consequences of infrastructure projects, transportation projects often run into problems during the process, creating delays along the way.

While the development and implementation of transportation infrastructure projects in an efficient and environmentally sound manner is crucial to the nation, expedited environmental reviews of high-priority projects must be considered on a more frequent basis. The Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews executive order, put in place in September 2002, has proven itself to be an effective program in expediting projects, while taking the proper environmental factors into account.

The executive order requires the Secretary of Transportation to designate high-priority transportation infrastructure projects to undergo expedited environmental review in order to accelerate their reviews for permits and other approvals. Since the inception of the program the Secretary has selected 19 projects to undergo expedited environmental reviews. These priority projects consist of 15 highway or bridge projects, 3 airport projects, and 1 transit project.

Finally, in order to expedite project delivery of surface transportation projects, once the decision making process is through, ASCE is in support of the following recommendations put forward by the National Surface Transportation Policy Revenue Study Commission:  

Revise Council of Environmental Quality regulations to allow additional factors to narrow the number of alternatives considered as “reasonable alternatives”, such as alternatives that reflect funding realities and community values.

• Handle impact identification and mitigation issues early by considering them in an integrated fashion, looking at overall resources rather than in a sequential, project-byproject basis. This might involve addressing issues at the programmatic level earlier in the planning process.
• Standardize the “risk design” approach under federal regulations so that project sponsors can proceed with design activities for any project during the environmental impact statement (EIS) process.
• Require greater coordination among Federal agencies reviewing transportation project permits, including setting time limits for review and using federal transportation funds to pay for regulatory staff to speed reviews.

While streamlining provisions under SAFETEA-LU have begun to expedite project decision making and delivery, the next surface transportation authorization can reinvent the processes in a way that retains and builds upon vitally important and successful principles and practices. ASCE looks forward to working with the Congress as it develops surface transportation authorization legislation.