How effective are Planning Environmental Linkages studies (PELs) in expediting NEPA?

Focus Area

NEPA Process


Environmental Process






Under 1 year

Research Idea Scope

For over 20 years Congress and presidential administrations from both parties have sought to accelerate environmental approval timeframes for transportation infrastructure projects. Planning Environmental Linkages (PELs) were first authorized in SAFETEA-LU and were updated and refined through MAP-21 and the FAST Act as a tool to help speed up environmental approvals by specifically allowing the use of materials and some decisions made during planning to be used during subsequent NEPA processes. Environmental initiatives such as the “One Federal Decision” Executive Order and updates to the Council on Environmental Quality NEPA regulations have further emphasized the desire for speeding environmental decision-making by establishing time limits on NEPA processes. These initiatives have greatly increased the use of PELs as a decision-making approach in recent years.

Conventional wisdom indicates that PEL studies are reducing NEPA decision-making timeframes, however, no thorough studies have been conducted to document actual results. Research is needed to understand what effect PELs have had in accelerating subsequent NEPA timeframes and what the implications have been.

Urgency and Payoff

The proposed research is related to the mission of the AASHTO Committee on Environment and Sustainability, specifically the Environmental Process Subcommittee. With more and more state departments of transportation pursuing PEL studies, and with continued pressures to complete NEPA more quickly, the research is broadly applicable to all AASHTO members.

Suggested By

John Allen

[email protected]