Council on Environmental Quality Finalizes NEPA Reforms

The White House Council on Environmental Quality or CEQ recently finalized reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA that implement permitting efficiencies laid out in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, including setting clear deadlines for agencies to complete environmental reviews, requiring a lead agency and setting specific expectations for lead and cooperating agencies, and creating a unified and coordinated federal review process.

[Above photo by the White House]

The CEQ said the rule provides agencies with other new and faster tools to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of environmental reviews. For example, it creates new ways for federal agencies to establish categorical exclusions – the fastest form of environmental review.

The agency noted the new NEPA reforms will apply to projects beginning environmental reviews on or after July 1 this year, but will not disrupt ongoing environmental review processes.

The new NEPA reforms are intended to help accelerate reviews for projects that agencies can evaluate on a broad, programmatic scale, or that incorporate measures to mitigate adverse effects – helping the transportation industry and other sectors speed up environmental reviews and providing more certainty when they are designing projects.

Finally, the CEQ says the new rule promotes early public engagement in environmental review processes to help reduce conflict, accelerate project reviews, improve project design and outcomes, and increase legal durability, noted Brenda Mallory, CEQ’s chair, in a statement – helping accelerate permitting for everything from wildfire management and electric vehicle charging infrastructure to high-speed internet and semiconductor manufacturing.

“These reforms will deliver smarter decisions, quicker permitting, and projects that are built better and faster,” she noted. “As we accelerate our clean energy future, we are also protecting communities from pollution and environmental harms that can result from poor planning and decision making while making sure we build projects in the right places.”

The CEQ said it conducted a “robust review” of more than 148,000 public comments on the proposed rule, of which approximately 920 were unique comments.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials provided detailed feedback on CEQ’s then-proposed NEPA revisions in September 2023, noting in its comment letter that it “shares CEQ’s goals” of providing for efficient and effective environmental reviews, ensuring full and fair public involvement, providing regulatory certainty, promoting better decision-making grounded in science, and protecting the environment.

Key comments from AASHTO included that there should be no “one-size-fits-all” way to comply with NEPA. “Each transportation project is unique,” the group pointed out in its letter. “Flexibility [is needed] to tailor the NEPA process based on a particular project’s circumstances [so] agencies should be able to meet NEPA’s requirements in a way that minimizes the financial and administrative burdens, informs public decisions, protects the environment, and avoids unintended consequences such as public or agency uncertainty and increased litigation risk.”

AASHTO also said CEQ’s NEPA regulations should provide clear direction to agencies, project sponsors and applicants, and the public. “To improve agency and public understanding of the regulatory framework, CEQ should be clear about which aspects of the regulations are statutorily required,” the group emphasized.

“AASHTO is concerned that CEQ’s proposed regulations introduce new undefined terms and create new vague requirements, which will lead to delays in project delivery and increase litigation risk for projects,” the group said. “For example, in various areas throughout the regulations, CEQ proposes to replace the term ‘significant’ with the ambiguous and undefined terms ‘important’ or ‘substantial.’”

Active Mobility Key Part of Utah DOT Construction Plan

The Utah Department of Transportation unveiled its 2024 construction plan, which encompasses 209 projects with a total value of $2.74 billion. Many of those projects include critical active transportation components, the agency said.

[Above photo by Utah DOT]

Lisa Wilson, Utah DOT deputy director of engineering and operations, noted in a statement that planned improvements incorporated within the agency’s 2024 construction plan range from repaving rural highways, building freeway-style interchanges, replacing aging bridges, improving pedestrian access, and building new trails.

“These projects are part of our commitment to helping people get where they want, in the way they want, safely and efficiently,” Wilson said. “This includes building new projects to help meet growth demands, maintaining our aging roads and bridges, and building out our transportation network to accommodate drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Just some of the major projects Utah DOT plans to start work on this year that incorporate active transportation elements include:

  • The Mountain View Corridor: This $466 million project will connect the Mountain View Corridor from Porter Rockwell Blvd with 2100 North in Lehi, providing another much-needed transportation option for northwest Utah County and southwest Salt Lake County drivers. It will be the first section of Mountain View Corridor constructed as a freeway with no stoplights. Additional work includes upgrading the intersection at 2100 North to an interchange, updating wildlife fencing, and creating a multi-use trail. The Mountain View Corridor will eventually be a 35-mile freeway from I-80 in Salt Lake County to SR-73 in Utah County. Construction is expected to last through early 2026.
  • 5600 South: This $361 million project incorporates building a new I-15 interchange at 5600 South in Roy that will make it easier to get to and from Hill Air Force Base. The project is also widening 5600 South from three to five lanes from I-15 to 3500 West. Utah DOT will also add new sidewalks, pedestrian ramps, and a new trail system for pedestrians and bicyclists as well. These improvements will help area residents get around more easily, whether they are walking, biking or driving. Construction started in 2023 and is expected to continue through 2026. 
  • I-15 Shepard Lane interchange: This $147.5 million project will build a new interchange on I-15 at Shepard Lane in Farmington to reduce congestion and improve safety in this area. Not only will it cross over Union Pacific Railroad and Utah Transit Authority tracks to create another connection to local roads, this project will also improve pedestrian and bike connectivity along Park Lane, along with improvements to ramps associated with I-15, US-89, and Legacy Parkway (SR-67). Construction is expected to wrap up in 2026.

Other state departments of transportation have also formally launched their 2024 construction efforts.

The Ohio Department of Transportation plans to invest $2.8 billion into 950 road and bridge improvement projects across the state during its 2024 construction season – with 39 of them classified as “major projects” with a value above $10 million.

Environmental News Highlights – May 8, 2024


AASHTO President Craig Thompson: ‘Togetherness’ Key to Success -AASHTO Journal

FHWA Issues $148M in Grants to Reduce Port Air Pollution -AASHTO Journal

USDOT Seeks AI Solutions For Transit Infrastructure -Nextgov/FCW

Hearing: A Review of Fleet Electrification Efforts -House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure

Biden administration details how producers of sustainable aviation fuel will get tax credits –AP



MoDOT ending Adopt-A-Highway program, citing costs, safety concerns -Spectrum News

MoDOT leader calls for changes from trash haulers after seeing debris spill onto highways -KMBC-TV

Navajo government asks Biden to stop uranium transport across the Navajo Nation –Fronteras

Groundbreaking on Electric Charge Highway -WLFI-TV (link to video)



Colorado governor, Democrats reach long-term air quality and transit deal with oil and gas industry, environmentalists -Colorado Sun

Port of Oakland opens world’s 1st commercial, zero emission truck stop -KTVU-TV (video)

The 15 cities in the US with the worst air quality, ranked -Business Insider



In New Orleans’ bike culture, Black cyclists find ‘therapy,’ community –NOLA



Florida asks feds to let more than 1,000 permits slide after judge rules process illegal -News-Press

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As the climate changes, cities scramble to find trees that will survive –Grist



Graffiti-battling drones take flight in WSDOT highway cleanup program -KOMO-TV

World Cup, Olympics, Climate Change Drive California Infrastructure Efforts -ENR California

San Clemente Surfers Fight $100 Million Railroad Renovation Project –Surfer

USDOT’s Build American Bureau approves first TOD TIFIA loan for Mt. Vernon Library Commons Project -Mass Transit



Michigan DOT Podcast Touches on Benefits of Trails -AASHTO Journal

Washington bike safety program goes statewide -Seattle Times

E-bikes are a ‘game changer’ for bike shares -Route Fifty

Historic Cedar Hill Bridge reopens for pedestrians -Tri-City Record

Pedestrian, Cyclist Trail To Connect Chickamauga And The National Military Park in Tennessee -The Pulse

Almost a decade in the making, new bicycle hub aims to close Utah transportation gaps –



Practices for Statewide and MPO Coordination – NCHRP

On-Demand Aviation Services for Mobility, Logistics, Emergency Response, and Humanitarian Use Cases -ACRP (event summary)

The Future of Ferry Electrification in Rural Areas -TRB (webinar)



Opportunities and Challenges of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Transportation; Request for InformationUSDOT (Notice)

National Environmental Policy Act Implementing Regulations Revisions Phase 2 -Council on Environmental Quality (Final rule)

Clean Energy for New Federal Buildings and Major Renovations of Federal Buildings -Federal Energy Management Program, DOE (Final rule)

Coordination of Federal Authorizations for Electric Transmission Facilities -Grid Deployment Office, DOE (Final rule)

Proposals by Non-Federal Interests for Inclusion in the Annual Report to Congress on Future Water Resources Development -U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Notice)

Water Quality Standards Regulatory Revisions To Protect Tribal Reserved Rights -EPA (Final rule)

Great Redwood Trail Agency – Adverse Abandonment – Mendocino Railway in Mendocino County, Cal. -Surface Transportation Board (Notice of application)