Without strong infrastructure systems, our national economic position, including our workforce, production, health, safety, and overall welfare is at risk. Professional engineers play a key role in the planning, design, implementation, construction, operation, and maintenance of this infrastructure. So when the Department of Transportation requested public input on the efficacy of its regulations, NSPE sprang into action. (DOT was responding to President Obama’s January Executive Order, “Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review,” under which every federal agency must review its existing regulations to determine whether regulations are effectively promoting economic growth, job creation, and competitiveness without being unduly burdensome.)
NSPE surveyed 10,000 members to pinpoint the regulations of greatest concern to the engineering profession, then filed comments with DOT on a range of topics including the Federal Highway Administration’s and Federal Transit Administration’s inconsistent application of qualifications-based selection, the environmental clearance process, FHWA’s conflict of interest policy, inconsistent models of quality assurance across DOT, and outdated pipeline safety standards. NSPE then spoke at a DOT meeting helmed by DOT General Counsel Robert Rivkin and attended by a panel of the DOT components’ general counsels and senior staff.
NSPE member Dan Tanksley, P.E., F.NSPE, a Texas-based civil engineer who serves as the general counsel of Halff Associates, represented NSPE at the meeting, where he highlighted two critical issues:
- FHWA and FTA only use QBS for construction-related contracts. The Brooks Act requires federal agencies to use QBS when procuring architectural and engineering services; however, FHWA and FTA guidance documents state that QBS is necessary only if engineering services directly relate to construction. This is based on an incomplete reading of the Brooks Act and the mistaken assumption that all engineering services involving real property must be directly related to construction. NSPE recommended that FHWA and FTA amend their guidelines to comply fully with the Brooks Act.
- The environmental clearance process is excessively long. The National Environmental Policy Act requires DOT to evaluate the potential impact of its proposed projects on the environment before any work on projects may begin. Obtaining the necessary environmental clearances, however, takes from six months for a categorical exclusion to a minimum of two years for an environmental assessment and even longer for an environmental impact statement. NSPE believes that the environmental clearance process could be streamlined without compromising the intent of NEPA – a popular view at the meeting, where APWA, AASHTO, ARTBA, the Orange County (CA) Transportation Authority, and the Midwest Bus Corporation also cited the environmental clearance process as a major issue.
NSPE recommended streamlining the environmental clearance process by transferring environmental review responsibilities entirely to the state DOT unless an environmental impact statement is required; replacing sequential reviews with a single joint review or charrette; emphasizing substantive environmental issues rather than issues that have no bearing on decision-making; eliminating the requirement for indirect and cumulative impacts analyses in all categorical exclusion documents; and accepting electronic submissions of documents.
NSPE believes that resolving these and the issues addressed in the written comments will improve the nation’s transportation system, benefiting the public's health, safety, and welfare.
Read NSPE’s position statement on infrastructure.
Published April 1, 2011 by NSPE
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of and should not be attributable to the National Society of Professional Engineers.