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Project Delivery/Streamlining

Case Studies

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Listed below are examples of case studies including best practices, and/or innovative tools/approaches. This section will grow as entries are submitted or links to other sites with useful examples are provided. If you believe your agency has utilized a best practice/approach that others could learn from, please submit a short description to AASHTO (including any pertinent links) on the Share Info with AASHTO form. Please note that currently submissions are only being accepted from governmental entities.

Federal Highway Administration Compilations

FHWA's Successes in Stewardship Newsletter

FHWA's Monthly Successes in Stewardship Newsletter provides profiles of successful practices in environmental stewardship and streamlining.

Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining State Practices

Environmental streamlining success stories are catalogued on the FHWA website under State Practices Database.

Meeting Environmental Requirements After a Bridge Collapse: Five Cases

A report published by the Federal Highway Administration analyzes the environmental review process in five cases of bridge reconstruction following collapse in Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. The report, which was prepared by the U.S. DOT’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, describes how key elements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process were completed comparatively quickly due to a sense of urgency on the part of stakeholders following an emergency. The report also describes several practices that allowed agencies to expedite the environmental review process. For more information, link to Meeting Environmental Requirements After a Bridge Collapse.

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Maine

MaineDOT Accelerates Project Delivery, Programmatically Protects Endangered Salmon

The Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) has adopted a programmatic approach to ensure vital protections for the endangered Atlantic salmon, while cutting project-approval times for 60 percent of projects that are likely to affect the species.

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Maine Atlantic Salmon Programmatic Consultation is a combined effort of MaineDOT, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA). With the help of a $250,000 FHWA grant, the agencies collaborated to expedite the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 consultation process for projects that impact the Atlantic salmon through development of a programmatic biological opinion (PBO) and a related in-lieu fee mitigation program.

The PBO was issued by the USFWS in January 2017 in response to a programmatic biological assessment (PBA) prepared by MaineDOT.

The PBO applies to a range of transportation projects likely to result in unavoidable adverse effects to Atlantic salmon or its critical habitat. A project qualifies for processing under the PBO depending on its location, the quality of habitat, design parameters, and construction methods.

Under the programmatic, MaineDOT agrees to design and carry out a mutually-agreed-upon standard set of procedures, including avoidance and minimization measures and mitigation practices. Given that the actions are standardized, USFWS review time is greatly reduced, also reducing project delivery time and cost by significantly improving predictability for both MaineDOT and USFWS.

Once the project qualifies for programmatic coverage, informal consultations are completed within 14 days and formal consultations are completed within 30 days.

Specific benefits include the following:

  • Approximately 60 percent of MaineDOT projects requiring Section 7 consultation for Atlantic salmon will qualify for expedited processing under the PBO;
  • For those projects that qualify, individual BAs (typically 50 to 100 pages) are replaced by a standard two-page checklist form that reflects the protocols and performance standards of the PBO;
  • The timeframe for informal USFWS consultation and concurrence is reduced from about 8 months to 1 month; and
  • Parties can focus on projects outside the PBO that may have greater impacts on the species.

Addressing a Backlog of BAs

“Back in 2010, we had an annual backlog of about 40 informal and formal Biological Assessments (BAs) for salmon-related projects requiring USFWS review and fewer than 7 were being processed due to extremely heavy workloads and highly detailed information requests,” said Judy Gates, director of MaineDOT’s Environmental Office.

Gates said less than 20 percent of annual consultations for the Atlantic salmon were reaching completion in time to deliver projects during a very constrained construction window.

“USFWS was issuing their decisions months past its target dates and, as a result, we were going way beyond our project delivery deadlines. We all realized we had to do something,” Gates said.

Specifics of the Programmatic Biological Opinion

To help address this backlog, the agencies developed a programmatic consultation, committing to specific design standards that seek to reconnect waters for endangered salmon. The PBO applies to three priority geographic areas within the state designated as Salmon Habitat Recovery Units.

In implementing the PBO, MaineDOT, MTA, FHWA, and the USACE maintain regular communication with USFWS and NMFS on each project’s potential for programmatic coverage. The PBO covers activities such as:

  • culvert and bridge replacement;
  • bridge maintenance;
  • geotechnical drilling; and
  • scour countermeasures and culvert end resets.

The PBO also lists actions that do not fall under programmatic coverage and still require individual consultation, such as solid-fill causeways replaced in potential spawning habitat.

In-Lieu Fee Program Provides Flexibility

To further these efforts, MaineDOT also is collaborating with the USACE to develop an in-lieu fee (ILF) mitigation program for Atlantic salmon. The PBO serves as the primary avenue by which mitigation fees can be directed to Atlantic salmon recovery efforts under the purview of USFWS and NMFS.

The Atlantic salmon ILF will enable public and private applicants for federal environmental permits to direct mitigation dollars to the Atlantic salmon ILF fund instead of performing project-specific mitigation. Funds from the Atlantic salmon ILF will be distributed as determined by an interagency review team comprised of state and federal agencies with jurisdiction over Atlantic salmon management and recovery.

The program is intended to operate as an ecosystem crediting system. Environmental benefits such as preserving a habitat recovery unit will be valued in relation to other environmental benefits and assigned a relative number of credits that, in turn, have an associated dollar equivalent. Permit applicants will pay a specific number of mitigation dollars into the system based upon direct and indirect effects attributed to their project.

An environmental group has been contracted to develop the ILF program’s framework and propose a defensible benefit-cost methodology. The program is based on Maine’s existing wetland in-lieu fee program, the “Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program,” which has successfully funded both state and federally-required mitigation for the last decade. The new ILF is expected to be finalized in the summer of 2017.

Implementation and Cost Considerations

Simply not having to draft a BA for 45 projects each year results in a cost savings of over $150,000. More significantly, this frees technical staff to spend those hours in the field gathering data needed to improve habitat connectivity.

In addition to MaineDOT direct costs, USFWS will benefit as its transportation liaisons focus on more complex projects. MaineDOT has opted to fund two liaisons to USFWS to increase capacity, create an institutional knowledge base, and improve opportunity for interaction between agencies. The cost of the second liaison is easily balanced by the cost savings realized from not having to draft BAs.

On an individual project basis, mitigation fees are anticipated to range from $10,000 to 10 or 20 times that amount.

“MaineDOT has used an estimate that up to $750,000 annually could be directed to mitigation fees under the PBO, similar to level at the inception of Maine’s wetland mitigation program,” Gates said.

If costs of participating in the PBO are likely to exceed benefits for a given project, managers may opt to use individual consultations, as in the past. MaineDOT will be tracking direct and indirect costs and benefits particularly over the first several years of using the Atlantic salmon PBO.

Eco-Logical Grant

The effort to develop a programmatic approach got a large boost when MaineDOT received a $250,000 Eco-Logical Implementation Assistance grant in 2013. FHWA’s Eco-Logical approach encourages state DOTs and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to engage project partners such as USFWS early in the process and to collaborate on integrating both transportation and ecological goals.

The grant allowed MaineDOT and its partner agencies to analyze their environmental screening processes and eliminate duplicative steps. The grant also coincided with MaineDOT’s performance measure to deliver of at least 80 percent of projects within 30 days of the scheduled advertise date.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

“We found that two of the key ingredients for success are to have internal expertise and to have an internal champion,” Gates said. She also recommended the following strategies:

  • Understand and be able to articulate benefits and costs to each agency involved.
  • Maintain flexibility in schedule of tasks to allow for inevitable workload demands.
  • Develop internal executive-level support and an internal project coordination team as soon as possible.
  • Reach out to partner agencies at the outset and maintain close communication throughout the project duration.
  • Should roadblocks crop up, consider involving partner organizations’ regional offices or federal agency officials;
  • Allow for flexibility and changes in approach based on new ideas, unexpected barriers, or shifts in staffing.

Staff from the transportation and environmental agencies expect that the approach will benefit both transportation project delivery and species recovery efforts.

For more information, link to the Maine Atlantic Salmon Programmatic Consultation web page or contact Judy Gates, Director, MaineDOT Environmental Office, at Judy.Gates@maine.gov.

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Oregon

Oregon DOT Makes Headway in Streamlining ESA Section 7 Consultations

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have significantly reduced review time and cost for conducting endangered species consultations for their projects through implementation of a unique statewide programmatic consultation that streamlines procedures while ensuring conservation of potentially affected species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

ODOT’s John Raasch explains that “prior to the Federal-Aid Highway Program (FAHP) ESA programmatic consultation process, ODOT was spending six to nine months preparing a Biological Assessment and awaiting the Biological Opinion. It was expensive and time consuming. With the FAHP [programmatic ESA consultation], that consultation time is now one to two weeks. Due to the process being so efficient, ODOT can submit documents later in the project planning phase when more specific details regarding project design are available, resulting in fewer revisions and shorter review timelines.”

Oregon DOT's ESA Programmatic Consultation helps streamline projects such as this innovative culvert design. Photo: ODOT

Background

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, numerous west coast salmonid species (Chinook, Chum, Coho, steelhead, Sockeye and Bull Trout) were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). ODOT, whose road and bridge projects border and cross a high number of salmon-supporting streams, began hiring more biologists and consultants to prepare the numerous and lengthy Biological Assessments (BAs) that were now required and to manage the ESA Section 7 consultation process.

After many years of preparing separate BAs evaluating predictable impacts and implementing similar mitigation measures, and completing separate Section 7 consultations which took on average six to nine months, ODOT and FHWA approached the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) about a programmatic approach to ESA Section 7 consultations for these species. Taking advantage of the collaborative and problem-solving spirit built between ODOT, FHWA, USFWS and NMFS staff biologists over the preceding years, the agencies agreed on a set of procedures and tools for implementing the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) statewide programmatic Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 consultation and Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA) consultation with NMFS and USFWS.

The FAHP programmatic consultation for Highway Projects resulted in two biological opinions (BO), one from USFWS and one from NMFS, which provide ESA coverage for the majority of highway construction projects funded by the FAHP and administered by ODOT. To qualify for the FAHP programmatic consultation, the project must:

  • Result in an ESA determination of “may affect” (likely or not likely to adversely affect) for one or more of the specified federally-listed species or designated critical habitat (CH). The FAHP programmatic authorizes “take” for species most likely to be directly impacted by highway projects including all ESA-listed fish species and associated CH in Oregon.
  • Result in a determination of “may affect” fisheries resources governed by the MSA.
  • Result in a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) classification of categorical exclusion or environmental assessment.
  • Not involve specific excluded activities.

Outcome-focused design standards that were agreed upon by ODOT, FHWA, NMFS and USFWS, and that provide benefits to species and their habitats, are a key to the success of the FAHP programmatic. Some examples of these outcome-focused design standards are shown in Table 1.

There are four main phases of project implementation under the FAHP programmatic: early coordination, notification, construction, and post-construction. The details of project implementation are described in the FAHP Programmatic User’s Guide. As the lead agency, FHWA administers the FAHP programmatic, which includes local and state projects within the scope of the program. Projects that require U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) permits can use the FAHP programmatic to meet USACE ESA requirements. The FAHP action area includes all geographic areas in Oregon where transportation projects directly or indirectly affect ESA-listed species covered by the FAHP programmatic.

ODOT has found that conservation, consistency and efficiency are the benefits of the FAHP programmatic:

  • Conservation: the FAHP focuses on the outcome for covered species and their habitat.
  • Consistency: the FAHP provides predictable costs, design standards, outcomes for covered ESA-listed species, and agency review timelines.
  • Efficiency: in addition to predicable FAHP permitting components, an online form consisting of check boxes, drop downs and a few short text fields replaces the 200+ page BAs previously common at ODOT.

The FAHP programmatic consultation would not be possible without the trust built between participating agencies over time. As a result of its success, NMFS and USFWS were able to defer approval responsibility to FHWA for a large portion of projects.

According to ODOT, as of late 2015, 134 projects had been completed under the programmatic since its inception, with 77 completed or in construction. About half of those projects were local agency projects, and just over half of the projects required only FHWA approval with NMFS notification.

Implementation Tools for ESA Consultations

Several tools were developed to meet the reporting requirements of the FAHP programmatic and assist with information sharing and management. These include:

  • Initiation, Notification, Construction Inspection and Completion forms.
  • Webmap – The location and status of all projects implemented using the FAHP are available for stakeholders to track via ODOT’s FAHP Projects Map. Each project is symbolized by its current status and includes a link to the project files. These contain more detailed information ranging from plan sheets to notification forms to construction monitoring reports.
  • Project Tracking – All projects that use the FAHP are documented and tracked in a centralized data management system and coordinated by ODOT. Project impacts, enhancements, and take are all tracked, and quarterly status reports are available to stakeholders.
  • User’s Guide – The FAHP user’s guide is a comprehensive review of the processes used to implement the FAHP. The user’s guide provides design standards, and detailed instructions for how to coordinate, notify, and monitor projects.

For agencies struggling with long and unpredictable ESA consultation processes, ODOT has the following advice if considering a programmatic ESA consultation:

  1. Consult with other states on successful programmatic ESA consultations that have been implemented. Look into the tools they created and data tracking they provide. See if anything can be built upon to meet your needs.
  2. Continue to build relationships with FHWA, NMFS and USFW. Without strong relationships between ODOT, FHWA, NMFS and USFW, this consultation would have been very difficult, if not impossible to obtain.
  3. Be realistic on your time frame for obtaining the programmatic ESA consultation. Ensure that you take the time to collaborate internally and externally to ensure success.

For more information on ODOT’s FAHP programmatic, contact Cash Chesselet, ODOT FAHP Coordinator, at Cash.chesselet@odot.state.or.us, or Cindy L. Callahan, Environmental Specialist/Biologist, FHWA Oregon and Washington Divisions/Resource Center, at Cindy.Callahan@dot.gov.

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Featured Case Study

  • Case Study Photo

    The Maine DOT adopts a programmatic approach to ensure vital protections for the endangered Atlantic salmon, while cutting project-approval times.

    Read Case Study >Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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