Environmental regulation of Nebraska highway projects shifts to the state

September 7, 2018

LINCOLN - State officials will assume responsibility for conducting the environmental reviews of most federally-funded Nebraska transportation projects.

State and federal officials signed a memorandum of understanding between the Nebraska Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration today during a Capitol ceremony.

Gov. Pete Ricketts says the shift of responsibility will allow the state to complete transportation projects sooner.

“The Federal Highway Administration is going to continue to provide oversight to this process. So, they’ll do annual audits and so forth and, in fact, just getting to this point was a months long process where the Federal Highway Administration really came in and did a rigorous review of all the processes that our Department of Transportation has to do these environmental reviews,” Ricketts tells Nebraska Radio Network. “And so, we had to satisfy their high standards before they would allow us to be able to take over those environmental reviews.”

The change will impact approximately 95% of the transportation projects in Nebraska. Most of those, though, involve highway maintenance, such as roadway resurfacing, or minor bridge repair. Federal officials will continue to conduct reviews of new construction.

“It’s really the things that are more routine,” Ricketts says of the projects covered by the memo. “They don’t require the high level of environmental assessments and environmental impact statements and all the paperwork that say a new project would.”

Nebraska has 10,000 miles of roads.

State Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis says the change in environmental regulations will save time and money.

“Some of our colleagues in other states that have already gone down this road have reported they trimmed the time to deliver the environmental process from three years to one year,” Schneweis tells Nebraska Radio Network. “That’s the kind of time-savings we’re talking about and we expect to be able to replicate that here in Nebraska.”

Schneweis says though new construction will still be reviewed by federal officials, he hopes even that will change.

“For the bigger projects, things like going from two to four lanes, the six-laning of the interstate like we did between Lincoln and Omaha, those wouldn’t be covered under this document, but it’s the very next step for us and we’re looking forward to pursuing assignment of those responsibilities as well,” Schneweis says.

Legislative Bill 271 authorized the shift of responsibility.

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