Reuters

It takes a long time to get big infrastructure investments through the process, but it doesn't have to.

Building major infrastructure projects takes a long time. Not just because they're big, but also because their potential impact on the environment is big. And according to a new report, the time it takes to get projects like bridges and highways through the environmental review process has grown longer and longer over time.

The chart below explains the situation all too clearly:

Source: America 2050

The National Environmental Policy Act was made law in 1969. In the 1970s, it took an average of 2.2 years for a highway project to complete the environmental impact statement required by NEPA. By 2011, the average time was 8.1 years.

NEPA itself has been ostracized by many over the years for bogging things down. But it's not simply the law that's to blame for these growing delays, according to this new report [PDF] from America 2050, the national infrastruc­ture planning and policy program of the Regional Plan Association. Rather, it's the uneven implementation practices of state and federal agencies that unnecessarily prevent the process from running as smoothly as it could.

According to the panel of experts America 2050 convened to discuss the subject, "many of these delays can be attributed to a lack of communication and consensus in the pre-NEPA planning stage, administrative process bottlenecks, project management failings, or a lack of capacity among the agencies involved in the process."

So, while discussions about expediting project delivery often begin with changing the NEPA law, in reality, rewriting NEPA would likely undermine environmental protections and fail to address root causes of delay. Instead, reforming the internal administrative policies, procedures, and practices currently in place to follow the NEPA law has the potential to shorten proj­ect delivery timelines while maintaining the strong environmen­tal protections that NEPA established. Even greater efficiency can be achieved by integrating environmental reviews with state and metropolitan planning requirements into a more cohesive project development process.

By streamlining the processes within agencies and better integrating planning and environmental reviews, delays on major projects can be largely avoided, according to the report. The most important advice in the report may be the most obvious: get more consensus from stakeholders early on in the planning process and there will be fewer delays caused by people upset with the design and its potential impacts.

Photo credit: Jianan Yu / Reuters

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. New public notice signs from Atlanta's Department of City Planning.
    Design

    Atlanta's Planning Department Makeover

    A new seal, a new name, and most importantly, new signs that people will actually read.

  2. Times Square, 1970.
    Life

    The New York That Belonged to the City

    Hyper-gentrification turned renegade Manhattan into plasticine playground. Can the city find its soul again?

  3. "Gift Horse"—a skeletal sculpture of a horse by artist Hans Haacke—debuted on the Fourth Plinth in London's Trafalgar Square in 2015.
    Design

    What To Do With Baltimore's Empty Confederate Statue Plinths?

    Put them to work, Trafalgar Square style.

  4. POV

    Grenfell Was No Ordinary Accident

    The catastrophic fire that killed at least 80 in London was the inevitable byproduct of an ideology that vilified the poor.

  5. President Donald Trump speaking at his press conference at Trump Tower.
    Infrastructure

    Trump's Infrastructure Plan Only Has One 'Side'

    Trump’s obsession with building big things fast doesn’t seem unrelated to his defense of white supremacists.