Megan White, Director, Environmental Services Office, 360-705-7480 (Olympia)
OLYMPIA – A new environmental streamlining tool will significantly reduce the time it takes for some highway projects to receive federal-agency review and approval under Endangered Species Act requirements.
The Federal Highway Administration will recognize the Washington State Department of Transportation for its work developing this tool with a 2013 Environmental Excellence Award on June 18 in Virginia.
WSDOT is required to prepare a biological assessment and go through a review process whenever highway projects with federal dollars or permits, or located on federal lands, could potentially affect any of the 52 ESA-protected species.
WSDOT data showed this review process was taking as long as 265 days, leading to planning and project delivery problems. Through a new programmatic agreement, routine highway projects such as pavement overlays, culvert replacements and safety improvements are being reviewed and approved in roughly 30 days. Some projects, such as corrections to fish-passage barriers, can be approved in as few as five days. This will help expedite the approval of culvert replacements.
“Governor Inslee and all four legislative caucuses asked WSDOT to streamline its processes without compromising environmental protections,” said Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson. “This is one of the ways we are working with agency partners to expedite delivery of transportation projects, while assuring we maintain our strong environmental standards.”
The programmatic agreement is the result of a two-year collaborative effort between WSDOT, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FHWA. It simplifies the documentation required from WSDOT and uses pre-established processes to speed up federal-agency review and approval. The agreement addresses 24 ESA-protected species, including salmon, marine mammals and rockfish.
WSDOT estimates up to 70 percent of projects requiring federal ESA review by NMFS will benefit from this programmatic agreement, saving costs associated with staff resources and time. Since finalizing the agreement in December 2012, six projects have been completed using the agreement. Eight more are in process and expected to be completed shortly.
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