In 2002, FHWA engaged in an intensive and interactive process to identify Vital Few Goals, objectives, and performance targets. Through a process of "Catchball," led by teams of DAs and HQ managers, the agency agreed on specific targets, including these, which applied to all EISs and all EAs:
- Establish timeframes for EAs and EISs and meet the schedules for 90% of those projects by 9/30/07;
- Decrease the median time it takes to complete an EIS from 54 months to 36 months by 9/30/07; and
- Decrease the median time to complete an EA from approx. 18 months to 12 months by 9/3007.
Since then, several Division Offices have raised concerns about the negotiated timeframes objective. The purpose of this guidance is to provide assistance in the implementation of this component of the Environmental Vital Few Goal (VFG). Also note that the establishment of negotiated timeframes has been incorporated into the FHWA Performance Plan.
The need to conduct a coordinated environmental review process with concurrent interagency reviews and established time periods has been outlined in Section 1309 of TEA-21 and was included in the Department of Transportation's SAFETEA proposal, as well as being reflected in the President Bush's Executive Order 13274, Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews. FHWA selected the establishment and meeting of timeframes as a measure of improved timeliness under the Environmental Vital Few Goal.
In order to successfully accomplish the 90% target set by the VFG, schedules must begin to be established now, as we are already into the second quarter of FY 04. Full implementation of this objective throughout FHWA is essential. All EIS and EA projects initiated after the start of the FY 04 (October 1, 2003) are to have negotiated timeframes for the environmental review process.
We must also note that the other component of the improved timeliness objective targets the reduction of the national median processing times for EISs to 36 months and for EAs to 12 months by September 2007. For FHWA to meet this EIS target on a national basis, all offices will need to negotiate ambitious but realistic schedules for EISs initiated in FY 04 and FY 05. This office will provide a national picture of what the schedules negotiated by your offices predict about our collective ability to meet this target. This will require your diligence in entering estimated NEPA completion dates into the Environmental Data Tracking System (EDTS).
The Office of Project Development and Environmental Review (HEPE) will sponsor a web conference shortly after this guidance has been distributed to address any questions you may have regarding this guidance. Please feel free to call Ruth Rentch at 202-366-2034.