Programmatic agreements are documents that establish a streamlined process for handling routine environmental requirements for commonly encountered project types. They usually set procedures for consultation, review and compliance with one or more federal laws. Programmatic agreements can be used at the national, State, regional, or field offices level. By considering repetitive actions on a program basis rather than individually by project, efficiency is increased while maintaining appropriate consideration for the environment. The EDC-2 initiative formally continued to expand programmatic agreements effort that Federal Highway Administration has been promoting in past years and focused on agreements with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Programmatic agreements are efficient and effective by: (1) specifying clear roles and responsibilities of those involved; (2) standardizing coordination and compliance procedures; (3) facilitating the development of greater trust relationships among DOT and regulatory agency staff; (4) allowing limited staff and resources to be more focused and effective; (5) decreasing permit processing time while improving the predictability of permitting conditions; and (6) streamlined environmental review process, resulting in quicker project turnarounds.
Current State of Practice
The EDC initiative to expand programmatic approaches successfully added scores of new agreements. Some of these new state-level agreements could be applied to other states or modified to include several states in a region. Applying existing agreements to new states or expanding them to regions also reduce the costs associated with initiating new agreements and updating existing agreements.
All 50 states now have a programmatic agreement in place and 37 have two or more. With more than 500 programmatic agreements in place across the country, transportation departments and partner agencies report a wide range of benefits, including cost savings, accelerated project delivery, increased certainty about the project development process and project schedule, and decreased review times for state DOT and partner agency staffs.
In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and FHWA formed an interagency team to develop a range-wide programmatic Section 7 consultation for the Indiana bat and Northern long-eared bat under the Endangered Species Act. The programmatic consultation will cover routine highway projects funded by FHWA in 38 states. The team completed a Programmatic Informal Consultation April 22, 2015. A programmatic formal consultation is expected to be completed in March 2016.
In 2014, FHWA and the National Marine Fisheries Service formed interagency teams to improve the consultation process for design-build and similarly funded projects, as well as to develop a programmatic approach to consultation on species and habitats along the Atlantic Coast protected under the Endangered Species Act and Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. A draft of the guidelines is expected to be finalized in spring 2016. The programmatic consultation approach was initiated at the end of 2014 and is expected to be completed at the end of 2016.
On January 2014, FHWA completed two important efforts to improve coordination and collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) involving the development of a multimodal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the USCG and FHWA, FTA, and FRA and the developed an agency specific Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the USCG. The purpose of these documents is to integrate our efforts to expedite and inform NEPA and USCG permit decisions. These memoranda will enhance the efficiency and transparency of NEPA reviews and bridge permitting decisions by providing the means to expedite and coordinate the planning, environmental review, and decision-making or projects involving bridge permits.
In 2013 FHWA began working with the USFWS to develop a MOU addressing migratory bird conservation and compliance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A draft MOU was completed in November 2015 and will undergo review by Divisions, State DOTs, and FWS Field Offices during winter 2015-2016. A final MOU is expected to be signed in Summer 2016 and recommend development of Bird Conservation Plans (BCP). States that develop BCPs could be covered for incidental take of migratory birds during construction of transportation projects.