Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mica Bill – Making it Easier for Developers to Get Interstate Interchanges?

Section 1704 of the new Mica Reauthorization bill would allow FHWA to delegate approval of “justification reports” for new interchanges on existing Interstate highways to state DOTs. 
What’s this all about?  Under current laws and regulations, FHWA jealously guards access to Interstate highways.   Too many access points placed too close together mess up the operation of the highway and can cause safety problems.  To get a new interchange, the state DOT has to make a “justification report,” with all kinds of backup studies, to prove the need and to get FHWA’s approval even to start the planning process.
Who would want an easier process?  Developers!  A new interchange can turn a poor development location into a great one overnight.  Developers and their lobbyists can often be found in the hallways of DOTs and planning agencies, pleading their cases for access.
Would this change in language make a difference?  It’s not clear.  The part of the law requiring FHWA final approval is still in place – as is the need to get NEPA clearance.  And FHWA is not required to delegate approval of justification reports to states.
Would this change be good for state DOTs?  I don’t think so.  DOTs can now let FHWA be the bad guys and say no.  Why would they want to do that themselves?  Especially since a weak justification report would likely fail NEPA approval in the end anyway.
Can the idea of interchange approvals as a revenue source be far behind?  Watch for future developments on this issue.

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