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By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory affairs & assistant general counsel, ARTBA

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released a final rule May 31 expanding the ability of highway and bridge projects involving minimal federal funding to qualify for categorical exclusion (CE) status. CEs are the least burdensome form of environmental reviews and are reserved for projects with minimal impact on the environment.

Expanding the use of CEs is a top priority for ARTBA in project delivery reform. In general, using CEs can reduce project approval times by years—even up to a decade—compared to more burdensome forms of review, such as environmental impact statements.  The 2013 “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21) reauthorization law created a new class of CEs for projects that use a minimal amount of federal funding.  Specifically, MAP-21 exempts projects receiving less than $5 million in federal funds, as well as projects costing no more than $30 million with a maximum of 15 percent from the federal government. 

FHWA’s May 31 rulemaking implements a provision of the 2015 “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation” (FAST) Act, which indexes the CE threshold to inflation. This minor change will ensure that projects can continue to qualify for CE status as costs rise over time.