FTA Publishes Guidance on Joint Development

Earlier this week, on August 25, 2014, the Federal Transit Administration (“FTA”) published Circular 7050.1, providing much anticipated guidance for grantees interested in pursuing joint development projects within FTA’s legal and regulatory framework.  The circular incorporates joint-development related provisions from MAP-21, and is intended to clarify FTA’s policy and serve as its single guidance document on the subject. 

Specifically, the circular: (1) defines the term “joint development”; (2) explains how a joint development project can qualify for FTA assistance; (3) describes the legal requirements that apply to the acquisition, use, and disposition of real property previously acquired with FTA assistance (“FTA-assisted real property”); (4) outlines the most common crosscutting federal requirements that apply to joint development projects; and (5) describes FTA’s process for reviewing and analyzing joint development proposals.

For more information on joint development within the FTA framework or to view the new circular, click here.

FHWA and FTA Issue New Guidance On MAP-21 Exclusions

By Ben Rubin and originally posted on the California Eminent Domain Report blog.

On July 6, 2012 President Obama signed into law MAP-21, which, among other things, contained new National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") requirements for the Federal Transit Administration ("FTA") and Federal Highway Administration ("FHWA").  In January 2014, pursuant to a mandate in MAP-21, FTA and FHWA adopted new regulations, which became effective this week on February 12, governing the implementation of two new categorical exclusions. The two new categorical exclusions apply to (1) projects within an existing right-of-way, and (2) projects receiving limited Federal funding. 

The benefit of qualifying for one of these two new categorical exclusions is that the FTA and FHWA will not require the preparation of an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement, both of which often require a great deal of time and money. Of particular note, the regulations state that the categorical exclusion for projects within an existing right-of-way does not apply to "construction of a project in an undeveloped area simply because the real property interests were previously acquired," because the "use of the modifier 'existing' to describe the operational right-of-way means that a transportation facility must already exist at the location where the proposed project will be built." The regulations detail a number of other important nuances and caveats, so be sure to consult the regulations (or better yet, your NEPA expert) before you assume that a project qualifies for one of these new categorical exclusions.

Update Regarding Buy America and Utility Relocations

As we have previously reported,  the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recently adopted policies requiring Buy America compliance for utility relocations for federally funded transportation projects in cases where the utility performs relocation work.  On June 28, 2013, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), American Public Transportation Association (APTA), streetcar project sponsors, and associations representing electric, gas and broadband utilities sent a joint letter to the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) asking for certain accommodations in implementation of the new policy.  The letter, addressed to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Secretary-Designate Anthony Foxx, asks USDOT to clarify how the requirements will be applied, requests a transition period before Buy America requirements are applied to materials supplied by utility owners, and asks for USDOT to consider issuance of waivers for specialized utility products that may not be available from US manufacturers.  The letter also notes the importance of consistency in applying the Buy America requirements throughout the country, and cites a need for training and education of utility owners, suppliers and manufacturers.

The full letter can be found on APTA’s website.

On a related topic, FHWA has received a request for a waiver of Buy America requirements for various components related to the relocation of Pacific Gas and Electric's natural gas service facilities for a California project.  FHWA has requested comments regarding the waiver request.  View the request on FHWA's website.

Thanks to Frank Liu for his assistance with this entry.

FHWA and FTA Issue Guidance on MAP-21 to Streamline Environmental Process

On January 14, 2013, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued guidance on Section 1319 of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), Pub. L. 112-141, July 6, 2012.  MAP-21 is a measure that reauthorizes transportation funding through the end of 2014, and is the product of a robust effort by transportation advocates to streamline the lengthy, complex, and cumbersome federal environmental process.  As we reported here, MAP-21 includes several meaningful reforms that could expedite the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, thereby accelerating project delivery. 

Section 1319 attempts to expedite project delivery by providing a process by which agencies will begin to consolidate their NEPA documents.  Specifically, Section 1319 authorizes (1) the use of errata sheets attached to a draft EIS (DEIS) in lieu of the traditional final EIS (FEIS), and (2) the use of a combined FEIS and Record of Decision (ROD).  While the guidance provides details for transportation agencies regarding how to prepare and process these consolidated documents, it indicates that these devices are not likely to be applicable to controversial projects or where there are unresolved inter-agency disagreements. 

Use of Errata Sheets in Lieu of FEIS.  Pursuant to Section 1319(a), agencies may attach errata sheets to a draft EIS, in lieu of preparing a traditional FEIS.  The guidance indicates that errata sheets should only be used if the lead agency has modified the DEIS “in response to comments that are minor and are confined to factual corrections or explanations of why the comments do not warrant additional agency response.”  The errata sheets should also include the information required in a FEIS, as set forth in applicable regulations. 

Use of a Combined FEIS and ROD.  Section 1319(b) directs agencies to prepare a combined FEIS and ROD “to the maximum extent practicable.”  The guidance indicates that a combined FEIS/ROD should not be prepared if the FEIS makes substantial changes to the proposed action that are relevant to environmental or safety concerns, or there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns that impact the proposed action.  The guidance includes factors that an agency should consider when deciding whether a joint FEIS/ROD is appropriate, including whether the proposed action involves a substantial degree of controversy or whether there are unresolved inter-agency disagreements regarding the proposed action.  Any combined FEIS/ROD should also meet the requirements of applicable regulations. 

Prior to MAP-21, NEPA regulations prohibited agencies from approving a ROD any sooner than 30 days after the notice of availability of an FEIS.  Combining these processes, as well as encouraging the use of errata sheets to prepare an FEIS, may streamline and expedite the environmental review process for some projects.  The guidance suggests, however, that the use of these streamlining devices may not be appropriate for controversial projects or where there are unresolved inter-agency disagreements. 

The Section 1319 guidance was issued on an interim basis.  At a later date, FHWA and FTA will conduct a formal rulemaking to propose revisions to the FHWA/FTA NEPA regulations (23 C.F.R. Part 771) to reflect the changes made as a result of MAP-21.

FTA Authorizes Start of Construction of Honolulu Rail Transit Project

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has authorized the City and County of Honolulu to begin construction of a 20-mile, $5 billion rail transit project.  The FTA Letter of No Prejudice allows the City to begin up to $184.7 million in construction and other activities on the project, including the first sections of raised guideways from East Kopolei to Pearl Highlands.  The 20-mile rail project will extend from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center in downtown Honolulu and includes a station at the Honolulu International Airport. 

Hawaii state courts have rejected state law challenges to the project.  A lawsuit under the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and section 4(f) of the Transportation Act is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.

USDOT Sets Costly New Passenger Rail Station Platform Level-Entry Boarding Requirements

In a recent move that will have wide-ranging impact on the rail industry, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) set new level-entry boarding requirements for the access of passengers with disabilities to passenger railroads, applicable to new and altered station platforms where construction or alteration begins on or after March 2, 2012.  Through a final rule promulgated on September 19, 2011, USDOT amended its Americans with Disabilities Act regulations to require intercity and commuter passenger railroads to provide that disabled passengers can access any passenger cars accessible to non-disabled passengers (76 Fed. Reg. 57924)  This rule does not require railroads to retrofit existing station platforms.

In stations not shared with freight railroads, passenger railroads must provide level-entry boarding to all passenger cars.

In stations where freight railroads run on track adjacent to passenger platforms, passenger railroads may choose among non-level boarding alternatives – including car-borne lifts, station-based lifts or mini-high platforms – to meet a prescribed performance standard.  In order to use a non-level boarding alternative, a passenger railroad must submit a detailed plan to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) demonstrating that the selected alternative meets USDOT’s accessibility performance standard efficiently and safely, and in a manner that integrates disabled and non-disabled passengers.  The plan must provide details on deployment, maintenance and operation of the non-level boarding alternative, and FRA and FTA have discretion to modify or disapprove the plan.  If proposing an approach other than car-borne lifts, USDOT also requires railroads to submit a cost/benefit analysis of car-borne lifts versus that other technique.

Compliance with these new level-entry boarding requirements will involve significant cost to passenger railroads.  First, covered railroads must alter design plans for any station platform construction that will begin on or after March 2, 2012.  Passenger railroads that alter or construct station platforms accessing track shared with freight railroads will also incur expensive ongoing work-arounds to the level-entry boarding requirement.