The National Academies

NCHRP 20-24(71) [Final]

Expediting NEPA Decisions and Other Practitioner Strategies for Addressing High Risk Issues in Project Delivery
[ NCHRP 20-24 (Administration of Highway and Transportation Agencies) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $399,769
Research Agency: Parsons Brinkerhoff
Principal Investigator: Howard Wood
Effective Date: 6/22/2010
Completion Date: 4/30/2014

Long timeframes and uncertainties at intermediate stages in the transportation project delivery process account for significant direct costs to transportation agencies and the public. Procedures associated with meeting requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental regulations are frequently cited as a source of long timeframes and uncertainties.  For example, the median time for completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for transportation projects was 60 months in 2000. Confronting this statistic, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) proposed a goal of reducing the number to 36  months. Nevertheless, the median time to complete the NEPA process increased to 80 months in 2002, and stood at 63.5 months as of 2008. These timeframes, not necessarily associated only with environmental concerns, are emblematic of the broad problem.
Principles and practices of risk management may be used to identify and assess the potential consequences of environmental and other concerns that may slow or disrupt the development process for a particular project. Agencies may then use the information to allocate their limited resources to mitigating or avoiding risk and reducing delays and uncertainties, for example by pre-screening project concepts for environmental and community issues prior to programming; engaging key stakeholders earlier in a project’s development; and explicitly highlighting the potential timeframes, costs, and outcomes potentially associated with a particular project’s processing.  
The objective of this research was to develop a clear and user-friendly guide for practitioners on the use of risk management to support (1) early identification of key issues that may significantly slow or block successful project delivery, (2) effective application of management action and other resources to avoid or mitigate the delays these issues represent, and (3) better decision making in project planning and programming. Procedures associated with requirements of NEPA and other environmental regulations were a primary focus in the research.
The project had two phases.  The initial phase entailed a review current knowledge and practices regarding identification and management of risk in project development. From this review the research team (a) prepared a list of commonly encountered risks to timely project processing; (b) described the primary mechanisms through which these risks arise and become effective (e.g., compliance with NEPA requirements, departmental planning and budgeting, legislative actions, or others); (c) identified “markers” or “symptoms” associated with each risk, which practitioners might use for early identification and assessment; and summarized the information needed to support identification and assessment of these risks; (d) described strategies that have been used successfully to avoid or mitigate these risks and the apparent benefits and long-term consequences of these strategies; and (e) identified readily available tools that may be used to support project delivery risk analysis and management. A second phase focused particularly on strategies for identifying and mitigating very significant environmental-review risks to project delivery, those risks that have high likelihood of occurrence and severe delay and cost consequences.

The product is
a guidance document designed to assist individual practitioners as they gather information, assess likely risks, and identify potentially useful strategies for avoiding or mitigating substantial delays and cost increases in project delivery. The guidance document was published in two volumes as NCHRP Web-Only Document 183: Guide for Managing NEPA-Related and Other Risks in Project Delivery and delivered to AASHTO.  Volume 1 and Volume 2 may be downloaded by clicking  on the respective titles.

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