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Expanding Use of Programmatic Agreements

Shortening Project Delivery Toolkit

Expanding Use of Programmatic Agreements

Expanding Use of Programmatic Approaches

The continued and expanded use of programmatic agreements (PAs), where procedures have been standardized and agreed upon, has been very effective in saving time. When prior agreements exist for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating impacts, projects are reviewed quicker and trust is developed that results in improved relationships between DOTs and regulatory agencies. The goal of this initiative will be to identify and assist in the expansion of new and existing programmatic agreements to a regional or national level.

Programmatic Agreements Save Time and Increase Trust

Creating More Programmatic Agreements. While programmatic agreements (PAs) are not new, there are new opportunities for FHWA to work with stakeholders to create more applications. Expanding the use of PA agreements can be invaluable in streamlining reviews, reducing project implementation time, and increasing trust among state Departments of Transportation (DOT) and regulatory agencies.

Expanding the Use of Programmatic Agreements Initiative. The goal of the Expanding Use of Programmatic Agreements Initiative is twofold:

  • Identify situations in which new programmatic agreements will be beneficial
  • Assist in expanding existing programmatic agreements to a regional, statewide, or national level

Understanding the PA. A PA is a document that spells out the terms of a formal, legally binding agreement between a state DOT and other state and/or federal agencies. It also establishes a process for consultation, review, and compliance with one or more federal laws.

Streamlining Reviews, Strengthening Relationships. When PAs exist for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating impacts, projects can be reviewed much more quickly. Equally important, these agreements provide an essential foundation for shared understanding and effective working relationships between DOTs and regulatory agencies. Improving relationships can also improve workflows and employee morale.

Shortening Project Delivery Time. When procedures are standardized and agreed upon, work progresses more efficiently. PAs have been very effective in producing time savings in the project delivery process in these ways:

  • Specifying clear roles and responsibilities
  • Standardizing coordination and compliance procedures
  • Improving relationships among DOT and regulatory agency staff
  • Helping limited staff and resources to be more focused and effective

FHWA's Role in the Initiative. FHWA will promote the Expanded Use of Programmatic Agreements through two basic steps:

  • Identifying best practices and promoting the benefits of programmatic approaches through outreach
  • Developing new programmatic approaches and/or improve existing ones through agreed upon revisions, where there is interest by States and its partner agencies

Where States have not tapped into the streamlining and quality improvement benefits of these approaches, FHWA will take the lead in helping them develop and utilize PAs to shorten review cycles and project delivery times.

Success Stories. PAs have worked effectively in many situations. The Ohio Programmatic Biological Opinion for the Indiana Bat helped streamline compliance with the Endangered Species Act. It did this by creating a tiered programmatic consultation approach to ODOT's Statewide Transportation Program. Other PAs have enabled agencies to fulfill the requirements of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and NEPA concurrently.

Programmatic agreements are extremely effective in helping multiple organizations and agencies to work together. A multi-party PA executed between FHWA and Tribes in North Dakota reduced the workload for each party by determining what types of projects would be of interest in predefined geographical areas.

This initiative is expected to increase the number of programmatic agreements in use nationally. This will not only result in better decision-making. It will also improve and expedite the project delivery process.

Dynamic and Consistent Approaches on a Broader Scale. The Expanding Use of Programmatic Agreements Initiative will stimulate dynamic development and ongoing application of programmatic approaches. It will lead to approaches that are broader in scale and nationally consistent. This is a win/win situation for DOTs as well as regulatory agencies and local communities.

FHWA Division Offices and Local Technical Assistance Programs will take the lead in encouraging State DOTs to expand the use of PAs.

FHWA will work with stakeholders to establish PAs in regions where they are absent, while strengthening existing agreements. Field training for State DOT and FHWA personnel will be provided on the establishment and implementation of PAs.

What are programmatic approaches?

Programmatic approaches (PAs), which include programmatic agreements, streamline the process for handling routine environmental requirements for common project types. These approaches set procedures for consultation, review, and compliance with federal laws. PAs allow frequently repeated actions to be considered on a program basis rather project by project.

What are the objectives for implementing these programmatic approaches?

PAs will help bring about consistency throughout the Agency. Personnel will be able to make better use of existing tools, identify any obstacles to deploying projects, improve soft-skills, identify best practices and experiences, and initiate a "leaning forward" approach. These approaches will also be instrumental in developing creditable resources for State and Local partners.

Where are programmatic approaches typically used?

PAs can apply to programmatic agreements for any subject, Section 4(f) programmatic evaluations, "no potential to affect historic properties" memos, Memoranda of Agreement/Understanding (MOA/MOU), and other timesaving procedures.

How can programmatic approaches shorten project delivery?

PAs specify clear roles and responsibilities for those involved. This eliminates or reduces duplication of effort. PAs also standardize coordination and compliance procedures. They establish clear expectations for review timeframes and processing options. They also bring about greater trust relationships among DOT and regulatory agency staff, which leads to more productive interactions among all stakeholders. Where staff and resources are limited, PAs are particularly helpful in simplifying procedures for projects with minor or no impacts.

What kinds of programmatic approaches have been proven effective?

The Utah statewide PA for Section 106 Consultation delegates part of the process to the State DOT. Another example is the Net Benefits Section 4(f) programmatic evaluation, which provides a streamlined alternative for addressing the 4(f) process when all parties agree the project outcome will enhance the protected resource. Memos or Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) that lay out certain actions as having "no potential to affect historic properties" also save time.

Can programmatic approaches help with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements?

Yes. PAs can help streamline compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Merger processes can enable agencies to fulfill the requirements of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and NEPA concurrently. Several successful agreements have been executed between FHWA and Tribes.

What are some examples of how programmatic approaches streamline NEPA responses?

The Ohio Programmatic Biological Opinion for the Indiana Bat provides a tiered programmatic consultation approach to ODOT's Statewide Transportation Program. A longstanding agreement in North Carolina allowed a merger process that allowed agencies to fulfill NEPA requirements and Clean Water Act requirements simultaneously. In North Dakota, a multi-party PA saved work by determining the geographic areas and types of projects that would be of interest to the Tribes.

How does this initiative affect DOs that already have programmatic approaches?

DOs with existing programmatic approaches should evaluate their existing agreements to identify opportunities for expansion. They might discover additional opportunities to streamline their approaches and improve their effectiveness. States that continue to develop and revise their PAs can offer best practices and new insights into the approaches that work best for particular situations.

How should State DOTs and Divisions work together in these approaches?

Divisions and State DOTs should explore which program areas could benefit from using programmatic approaches on a regional scale. Divisions should then coordinate with neighboring states to highlight and prioritize opportunities to create multistate and/or regional programmatic approaches.

What is the role of FHWA and the Resource Center?

FHWA will publicize the existing tools and resources available for developing programmatic approaches. FHWA will also develop case study examples and continue to document best practices. Both Headquarters and Resource Center staff will be available to provide technical assistance and guidance during the expansion, revision, or creation of new programmatic approaches.

Will any training in programmatic approaches be provided?

FHWA Headquarters and the Resource Center will provide training to Division Offices through virtual roundtables and webinars that will promote interactive discussions. On-site Division specific training will provide further training on technical aspects of the initiative. This training will also cover effective ways to deploy the initiative.

What role will Division Offices play?

All Division Offices will be asked to inventory and assess their programmatic approaches. Any out-of-date or deficient agreements will be revised. Where appropriate, new approaches will be developed or existing approaches amended to increase efficiencies while maintaining our agency's commitment to stewardship.

What is FHWA's role in State and regional efforts?

FHWA and the Resource Center (RC) will provide technical and administrative support for regional programmatic efforts. They will explore and evaluate cost share opportunities with State DOTs for innovative approaches. FHWA's Headquarters Resource Agency Liaisons' workload will be redirected to assist as needed so that these approaches are being used consistently across the nation.

Some States have chosen not to take advantage of these approaches. How can DOs help?

Many programmatic approaches have been available for years, yet some States have not fully taken advantage of their streamlining benefits. Where PAs have not been widely used, DOs should lead an effort with their State partners to develop and use effective programmatic approaches.

What is the best way to encourage participation?

There are many good ways. First, get Leadership buy-in. Work on any relationships that need attention, even if it is difficult. Bring items to trade to the table, and be willing to reset the table. Be open-minded and put all of your cards on the table. Be persistent, friendly, and fair. Test drive or pilot procedures. Keep personal feelings out of it

Is FHWA working with AASHTO on this initiative?

FHWA is working collaboratively with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Center for Environmental Excellence to update the national inventory of programmatic approaches utilized across the country. In May and June 2010, AASHTO gathered all of the existing programmatic agreements from each of the State DOTs. FHWA and AASHTO representatives reviewed this inventory of existing programmatic approaches and highlighted the best practices on the AASHTO website.

What tools are available to help me create, expand, or revise programmatic approaches?

A wide range of tools and documents are available. Just visit these links:

AASHTO CEE Programmatic Agreement Library: http://environment.transportation.org/pal_database/

AASHTO CEE Programmatic Agreement Toolkit: http://environment.transportation.org/documents/programmatic_agreement_toolkit/ Streamlining Website, State Practices: http://environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/es3stateprac.asp

TRB report on "Agency Use of and Approach to FHWA Approved Programmatic Agreements":

State Transportation Liaison Funded Positions Study

What is the expected long-term outcome of this initiative?

This initiative should increase the number of dynamic, ongoing programmatic approaches in use nationally. Using programmatic agreements effectively should result in better decision-making. It will also improve and expedite transportation project delivery processes across the nation.

A programmatic model is proposed that provides a workable framework which any Division Office could employ or modify for its own purposes to more expeditiously and efficiently document and approve CEs which qualify for a CE determination under 23 CFR Part 771.117(d). For the projects which meet the conditions stipulated, individual project-by-project review, documentation, and approval are not required by the Division Office, since the programmatic would constitute a one-time advance documentation and approval.

This National Cooperative Highway Research Program Project 25-25, Task 13 project examines whether FHWA and State DOTs' programmatic agreements may not always be accepted by other federal agencies, why this happens, and how such situations may be avoided.

The State and Environmental Streamlining and Stewardship Practices database contains examples of streamlining and stewardship practices used by states to efficiently and effectively fulfill their NEPA obligations. Search the database to read about these examples. Click the map to retrieve all practices for a state or use the search engine to find specific practices.

AASHTO-developed web site that provides information and assistance to develop programmatic agreements.

A compilation of information about the programmatic agreements the State DOTs and their partners are using to expedite transportation project delivery and promote environmental sustainability and stewardship. This includes programmatic agreements for federally-aided and non federally-aided projects.


Page last modified on August 14, 2013.
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