Until the federal government began collecting taxes and financing highways in the 20th century, state governments and the private sector performed that task. The first federal highway act passed in 1916 and, over the years, the federal highway program expanded.
Today, the federal government plays the largest role in transportation policy through its highway programs for state governments and a growing array of regulatory mandates.
One of the most critical regulatory requirements any road project must meet before construction can begin is compilation and approval by the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) of a federal environmental impact statement (FEIS). The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires a detailed statement of environmental impacts approved by the FHwA, the lead agency in the environmental review process for any federally funded highway project.
The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), when it receives federal funds for a project, serves as the joint lead agency for purposes of preparing any environmental document required by NEPA. In 1997, ALDOT received approval of the FEIS from FHwA at which point construction could begin on the Northern Beltline. However, ALDOT allowed the three-year period covered by the approved FEIS to expire because it failed to begin construction.
In 2006, a ‘Reevaluation’ of the FEIS began. After a resurgence of support for the Northern Beltline in 2010 which focused constant attention on completion of the statement, the FEISR was completed and approved by FHwA on March 29, 2012.
The 2012 FEISR incorporates all of the information in ALDOT’s 1997 306-page FEIS and adds any new information since it was completed. The FEISR is a 1,480-page document that examined and addressed a multitude of environmental impacts . Not only has it cleared the required regulatory and legal process of ALDOT and FHwA, but also been reviewed and approved by multiple other federal, state, and local agencies according to their areas of expertise.
The lead agency, FHwA, may identify other federal and non-federal agencies that possibly have an interest in the project, and can invite those agencies to be participating agencies in the environmental review process for the project. The reviewing agencies include the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Jefferson County Department of Health, Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, Federal Transit Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority.
Securing the approved FEISR means that ALDOT can move forward to construction on the Northern Beltline!