Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why new roads take years: environmental and historical concerns, politics, economics and more

It took Kentucky 14 years to replace this road.
Ever wonder why it takes so long to build a new highway? Sean Slone of The Lane Report in Kentucky takes almost 4,000 words to tell us, but he makes it an easy read. It's the first part of the magazine's look at the state's "complex and labyrinthine road construction process." Next month's will be about the "dozens of revenue sources" that can be used to build roads. Outside the money, the process differs relatively little from state to state, especially if federal funds are involved, so Slone's report is a good reference for those not familiar with the details of highway planning, design and construction.

The process "is composed of at least six smaller processes, each with its own challenges, requirements and procedures," Slone writes. "Each contributes to the lengthy overall timeframe, some more than others. Projects all must follow a similar linear progression of required milestones (particularly when federal funds are used), but each also is unique and subject to an array of delays, setbacks, renegotiations, unexpected discoveries and changing priorities."

One of the most time-consuming elements is the study process required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. "The linear nature of the NEPA process takes projects that could otherwise be approved in two or three years and makes them be approved in seven or 10 years, or sometimes never,” Phil Logsdon, assistant director for environmental analysis at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, told Slone.

“The NEPA process is an incredibly burdensome process that is so slow and so costly that for 20, 25 or 30 years public officials at all levels of government, Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural, everyone has tried to determine how the NEPA process can be made more efficient. And I suspect 20 years from now we’ll be talking about it as well. We need to be able to do more things simultaneously.” (Read more)

UPDATE, Oct. 25: The second part of the series "explores the maze of requirements attached to federal money and issues created by dozens of tightly restricted revenue source. Part 2 also presents reform options being considered," The Lane Report says.

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