United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway AdministrationSkip to content FHWA HomeFeedback
Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)

Fact Sheets on Highway Provisions



SAFETEA-LU incorporates changes aimed at improving and streamlining the environmental process for transportation projects. These changes, however, come with some additional steps and requirements on transportation agencies.

Statutory References

SAFETEA-LU Section(s): [6002-6005, 6007, 6009, 6010]


Efficient environmental reviews

A new environmental review process is established for highways, transit, and multimodal projects. The process applies to new projects advanced with environmental impact statements and can be applied, if DOT elects, to projects advanced with other environmental documents. A new category of "participating agencies" is added, to allow more state, local, and tribal agencies a formal role and rights in the environmental process. After providing an opportunity for public and interagency involvement, DOT will define the project's purpose and need, and establish a plan for coordinating public and agency participation. As early as practicable in the process, DOT is to provide an opportunity for a range of alternatives to be considered for a project. If any issue that could delay the process cannot be resolved within 30 days, DOT must notify Congress. A 180-day statute of limitations for lawsuits challenging Federal agency approvals is provided, but it will require a new step of publishing environmental decisions in the Federal Register. [6002]

State assumption of responsibilities

  • After entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Secretary, each State may assume responsibility for categorical exclusions, with FHWA in a programmatic monitoring role. Another provision calls for the Secretary to establish a categorical exclusion, to the extent appropriate, for activities that support the deployment of intelligent transportation infrastructure and systems. [6004,6010]
  • SAFETEA-LU establishes a project delivery pilot program for 5 States (specified as Alaska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and California), allowing them to apply to USDOT to assume all USDOT environmental responsibilities under NEPA and other environmental laws (excluding the Clean Air Act and transportation planning requirements). This delegation authority is limited to highway projects, and it could be for specific projects within a State or a programmatic delegation. [6005]
  • A pilot program is established under which, during the first 3 years after enactment, the Secretary may allow up to 5 States to assume environmental responsibilities [including NEPA and 4(f)] for Recreational Trails and Transportation Enhancement projects. [6003]

Section 4(f)

Section 4(f) of the DOT Act prohibits projects on publicly owned parks, recreation areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, or historic sites unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative and all possible mitigation is used. Under SAFETEA-LU, the Secretary can comply with Section 4(f) in a streamlined manner by finding that the program or project will have a "de minimis" impact on the area – i.e., there are no adverse effects of the project and the relevant State Historic Preservation Officer or other official with jurisdiction over a property concurs. The Secretary is to conduct a study evaluating the implementation of the changes to Section 4(f) , and report to Congress no earlier than 4 years after enactment. The Interstate System is exempted from being treated as an historic resource under Section 4(f), unless the Secretary determines that individual elements possess national or exceptional historic significance and should receive protection. The Secretary is to conduct a rulemaking to clarify the 4(f) standard of "prudent and feasible" for alternatives. [6007, 6009]


Eliminates the $50 million floor on the size of eligible contracts; Secretary must issue revised regulations that will allow transportation agencies to proceed with certain actions prior to receipt of final NEPA approval. [1503]

FHWA Home | Feedback