Bottleneck project streamlining involves collaborative decision making to advance a critically needed transportation improvement as quickly as possible. Streamlining decision making identifies the decisions required to move a bottleneck project concept from the planning phase step "Approve Transportation Deficiencies", prior to completion of the long range plan, directly into the environmental review process. This approach combines the required elements of long range planning and environmental review while engaging the necessary decision makers to ensure that the final solution is supported and eligible to move forward to construction. Understanding how to expedite bottleneck projects effectively and efficiently, by minimizing risks, maintaining partner collaboration and robust stakeholder involvement, is critical to addressing urgently needed transportation improvements.
BENEFITS AND ENABLERS
The primary benefit to be achieved through the streamlining process is the ability to provide needed transportation improvements in the shortest time possible; resulting in an overall cost savings, more efficient use of personnel, and project specific benefits such as improved safety or decreased congestion. In addition, the long term relationships among the decision makers are improved through a successful project outcome based on increased collaboration. A sense of trust can be established between the lead agency, the community, and both formal and informal partners. While engaged in the streamlining process, the other phases of transportation decision making can continue uninterrupted to meet goals and deadlines. For example, the Long Range Transportation Plan staff will continue to focus on the update of the plan by the required deadline while maintaining sufficient interface with the expedited project to ensure that the recommended alternative from the environmental review supports the regional system.
The potential to realize these benefits is enhanced when decision makers incorporate process and relationship supports (or enablers) .One of the essential enablers is the development of a common understanding of the overall need and the urgency for completing planning for the bottleneck improvement. This shared goal enables the entire team, representing the full partnership, to maintain focus as the environmental review process is conducted. Ensuring that all of the partnership project team members have the responsibility and the authority to participate in timely decision making is another important enabler for a streamlined bottleneck project. Finally, an up-front discussion of the potential availability and timing of funding to implement the project when environmental review is completed will help establish expectations among partners and stakeholders.
Successfully implementing streamlining requires that the agency first meet certain underlying criteria to ensure that it is a good candidate for the approach. Explicit discussion of these threshold criteria with the full partnership will help identify potential risks associated with the decision to streamline a bottleneck project. Consider the following questions:
- When identifying transportation deficiencies in the planning process, is there sufficient information to justify that the potential project is a critical, urgent transportation need?
- Is there agreement among all the formal decision makers - FHWA, the MPO, the State DOT, and relevant Resource Agencies - that this critical transportation need should be expedited?
- Do the formal decision makers have a strong working relationship that will ensure collaboration and commitment to a coordinated long range planning with environmental review/permitting?
- Does the affected local community support expediting this project?
- Can support from important stakeholders be reasonably assured?
- Is there full funding available to conduct the environmental review/permitting phase of the project?
- Is there a reasonable expectation that funds to construct the project will be available when environmental review/permitting is completed?
Responses to the threshold criteria questions will help determine the degree to which the agency is currently prepared to enter a streamlined process. However, if the threshold criteria cannot be achieved in the current situation, consideration of the benefits and enablers as well as risks and risk management may provide a means to meet the threshold criteria. Careful consideration of risks is essential before time and resources are committed to the actions required.
RISKS AND RISK MANAGEMENT
The greatest risk for the streamlining process is that important reviews or inputs, including coordination between on-going long range planning and environmental review, will be overlooked or short changed in the desire to quickly complete the project. For example, if long range planning and environmental review are not coordinated after the decision is made to streamline a bottleneck project, there is a risk that the streamlined solution from NEPA will not be included in the adopted LRP and eligible to be funded in the TIP. This could result in substantial rework in LRP and potential risk to other priorities as adjustments are made to incorporate the project while still maintaining requirements for air quality conformity and fiscal constraint. Other risks are related to the roles of the individual agencies. If agency representatives do not have sufficient decision making authority, full buy-in of decision making partners is compromised. This situation may result in the need to reconsider decisions or make changes; resulting in project delay. In addition, the partnership's commitment to shared goals is essential to project streamlining. Once the decision is made to advance a bottleneck the speed and efficiency of streamlining is dependent on the on-going commitment of the partners to both the urgent need and the general project concept that should be considered.
Some risk management techniques to safeguard the streamlining process are:
- Development of reasonable schedules at the beginning of the process which are continually updated
- Development of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between partners to establish the expectations for collaboration and to ensure all interests are met
- Robust public participation throughout the process to ensure the public has input into and is informed about decisions that are made
- On-going involvement of important stakeholders, especially those considered potentially adversarial to the project or recommended solution.
- Identification of funding resources that will support the solution and/or identification of funding shortfalls early in the process.