One facet of the highway construction process can and often does take more time than the actual design and construction process – environmental impact statement (EIS) and project planning. Department planning staff often has discretion to decide what level of EIS should be performed, or at least argue that a lower level EIS should be required in discussions with FHWA. However, there is little incentive for project management staff to argue for a non-major EIS. MDOT has some environmental impact statements that have been underway for at least three years — often at great cost to the department. Often times these studies are performed by outside consultants. Because there are extensive federal regulations, it can be difficult to bring these to a conclusion.
In order to get projects planned and built in a more reasonable timeframe the Legislature should require MDOT’s Director and Commission to justify in writing, sign off and approve all decisions requiring a “major” EIS, as opposed to non-major ones. The Legislature should also consider imposing a time limit of say 2 years for the completion of statements, with waivers only granted by the Transportation Commission, with a requirement for reporting such waivers to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Transportation as part of current environmental regulation reporting requirements. Such a requirement might help Michigan to bring these planning projects under control and reduce their eventual costs. Finally, there should be a maximum dollar funding amount established for several types of environmental impact statements – and budgets should not be allowed to exceed those amounts without Commission approval and notification of the Appropriations Committees.