The Federal Highway Administration and the Arizona Department of Transportation are proposing to renew Arizona’s participation in the “categorical exclusion” program for environmental impact planning purposes where federal highway projects are concerned.

[Photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Transportation.]

That program allows states to assume decision-making and legal responsibilities for meeting the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA requirements for federal highway projects.

The Arizona DOT is seeking to renew an agreement finalized with the FHWA in early 2018 that gives it responsibility for categorical exclusions involving projects that do not pose significant environmental impacts. The agency is welcoming public comments on its renewal document through January 3, 2021

In 2019, the Arizona DOT finalized separate agreement with the FHWA that gave it expanded NEPA authorization for five years – making it the seventh state to achieve full NEPA assignment approval.

The Arizona DOT noted that attaining full NEPA assignment responsibilities will help it complete required environmental studies more efficiently while maintaining the same degree of rigor required for projects receiving federal funding, including local projects administered by the agency.

Congress originally authorized NEPA assignments – formally called the “Surface Transportation Project Delivery Program” – as pilot projects under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users or SAFETEA-LU passed in 2005. It then allowed such assignments to be more broadly used on a permanent basis with the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act or MAP-21 signed into law in 2012. NEPA assignments recognize that states are able to comply with federal environmental requirements on their own, allowing them to streamline processes – saving time and money – while waiving their sovereign immunity in relation to federal court jurisdiction.