The Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely joined representatives from multiple state and federal agencies Sept. 16 at the TDOT Regional Complex in Nashville to sign the Tennessee Environmental Streamlining Agreement.
The agreement establishes a coordinated planning and development process for transportation projects with a goal of ensuring that the state’s transportation improvements are implemented without avoidable delays, while also protecting and enhancing the quality of Tennessee’s environment.
“This agreement establishes a coordinated approach to transportation planning between TDOT and the many agencies involved in the effective stewardship of our environment,” said Gov. Phil Bredesen. “Including these permitting agencies at the earliest point in project development will allow for more timely identification of environmental impacts on transportation projects, thus giving TDOT more time to address environmental concerns and reduce project delays.”
The joint agreement is modeled on similar documents that have been developed and successfully implemented in other states. The most significant improvement is the creation of “concurrence points.” A concurrence point is a step within the project development process where TDOT will request formal concurrence from TDEC and other resource/regulatory agencies before proceeding with further development of the project.
“This is an important agreement for TDOT and our partner agencies,” said TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely. “This new approach will allow TDOT to work with the multiple regulatory agencies to address any environmental concerns surrounding a transportation project early in the process therefore minimizing any avoidable project delays.”
In addition to TDOT, agencies participating in the Tennessee Environmental Streamlining Agreement include the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Environmental Streamlining Agreement requires concurrence from each of the signatory agencies at the following four stages of project development:
• The determination of purpose and need for the project and potential project impact area
• The development of project alternatives to be evaluated as part of the environmental review document
• The draft of the environmental review document
• The selection of a preferred project alternative which will include proposed means of mitigating environmental impacts
With prior concurrence by each agency, the need and application for environmental permits should become an extension of earlier joint decisions. This, in turn, will facilitate the processing of these permits. The new approach is intended to achieve the timely and efficient identification, evaluation and resolution of environmental and regulatory issues.