Streamlining Tools for Cultural Resources Compliance in Response to Federally Mandated Timeframes (Submitted on behalf of TRB AME60 Committee)
Research Idea Scope
This proposal seeks identification of effective tools to meet consultation requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act on compressed timeframes specified under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). The now-rescinded Executive Order 13807 of 2017 first established goals of two-year completion of environmental impact statements and one-year completion of environmental assessments. While EO 13807 and “One Federal Decision” (OFD) requirements have been rescinded, the BIL and CEQ’s 2020 updated NEPA regulations maintain these timeframe expectations without some supporting tools (such as an interagency OFD Memorandum of Agreement) that facilitated consultation under EO 13807. Several ad-hoc and existing tools have been employed by Departments of Transportation (DOT) to meet accelerated timelines, such as Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) studies; extended pre-National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) / Notice of Intent (NOI) studies; use of simplified review or historic contexts for common resource types, and programmatic agreements. However, particularly on larger projects with multiple potential impacts, these streamlining options, if improperly used, may cause significant project risks in areas of insufficient resources inventories, project segmentation, insufficient evaluation of avoidance alternatives, or foreclosure of consultation before decisions. In some cases, even careful use of existing tools may not be enough to meet timeframes where impacts are substantial or political or public controversy is compounded by compressed schedule, creating the perception of a “rush to judgement.” The study aims to characterize new or incipient tools for mandated timeframes, such as technological solutions (improving web-based/virtual consultation, predictive models) and detailed lessons learned from successful project delivery in complex situations to identify best practices that ensure robust consultation and due diligence consideration per the regulatory requirements.
Urgency and Payoff
The urgency of this effort is significant with many new transportation projects due to the BIL starting after years of stagnant funding. Identifying best practices and allowing state DOTs to implement recommendations will facilitate greater adherence to the mandated timelines, minimize litigation risk and project delays; and by demonstrating successful practices that can be replicated by other state DOTs and transportation agencies. The benefits of having nationally-informed guidance and successful practices identified will assist with consistency and defensibility of Section 106 documents nationwide and provide a baseline for additional innovation in the areas of identifying efficiencies in the Section 106 review process.