The American Highway Users Alliance urged Congress to enact the ExPDITE Act, sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK).
Testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation & Infrastructure Highways and Transit Subcommittee, Vice President Gregory Cohen said that the Young bill is a modest proposal that would streamline the project planning process for highways and transit while maintaining environmental protection and public involvement.
Joining a panel of transportation experts, Cohen asked the Subcommittee to move forward with Chairman Young’s bill. Recently, momentum has been created to take effective steps toward streamlining through the issuance of President Bush’s recent Executive Order on Environmental Stewardship and the introduction in the Senate of the MEGA Stream bill authored by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT).
Cohen reminded members that rising congestion, infrastructure needs, and driver frustration makes passage of ExPDITE a popular move that the public wants. "In 2001, we commissioned a nationwide poll to gauge public opinion on project delivery. The results were extraordinary. 59 percent of the public believe roads take too long to build, 67% felt that the environmental review process should be streamlined, and 65 percent agreed that the process should be changed to give the States a greater role in project approvals,” Cohen said.
Cohen listed several ways that the ExPDITE would improve transportation project delivery. The ExPDITE Act:
Sets procedural ground rules for the Department of Transportation and participating agencies to navigate through the environmental documentation process by clarifying expectations, roles and responsibilities, and creating deadlines that can be extended or changed. Agency comment deadlines occur at internal milestone points and do not apply to the public involvement process.
Creates a formal senior-level interagency dispute resolution process that can be initiated by a Governor of a state.
Sets a filing deadline for lawsuits after project planning is complete so that money is not wasted on expensive right-of-way acquisition or construction if a potential court case could halt the project.
Clarifies DOT’s role as protector of public parks and historic sites from transportation impacts. Avoids duplication of documentation by elevating the status of successful consultation with historic preservation officers under the Section 106 of the National Historical Preservation Act to satisfy DOT requirements.
Mandates surveys and reports on the progress made in achieving interagency cooperation and reduction in project delays.
Creates a Federal program to allow a State to voluntarily assume agency roles in environmental reviews (subject to federal regulatory procedures and regular audits).
"Today, large projects ready for construction have navigated through the stages of planning, environmental review, design and right-of-way acquisition for approximately 12-15 years, on average. While large projects are admittedly complex, that does not mean that we should accept avoidable delays. The best way to achieve real streamlining is to start by enacting the ExPDITE Act,” Cohen said.
The American Highway Users Alliance represents over 45 million motorists, truckers, and a businesses that depend on safe and efficient highways to transport their families, customers, employees, and products and pay the taxes that finance the America’s roads. The Highway Users advocates public policy that dedicates those taxes to improved highway safety and mobility.