Overview of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21)
The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) authorizes over $200 billion to improve the Nation's transportation infrastructure, enhance economic growth and protect the environment. TEA-21 creates new opportunities to improve air and water quality, restore wetlands and natural habitat, and rejuvenate urban areas through transportation redevelopment, increased transit and sustainable alternatives to urban sprawl. Several provisions of TEA-21 create new opportunities for water quality improvements. The following describes how these TEA-21 provisions work and their potential to fund water quality enhancements.
How Does TEA-21 Funding Work?
Transportation project planning and funding processes are locally and State-driven. As part of its long-term transportation plan, each State and metropolitan area develops transportation improvement programs (TIPs), which prioritize projects and funding. Only projects in an approved TIP are eligible for Federal funding. Through additions to both the Surface Transportation Program (STP) and the National Highway System (NHS), TEA-21 creates flexibility to fund environmental enhancement opportunities.
In TEA-21, 10% of STP funds ($3.3 billion over six years) are set-aside for transportation enhancements (TEs). A wide array of environmental and water quality improvement projects are eligible for TE funding, including pollution abatement and mitigation projects. TEA-21 also provides that up to 20% of the cost of a transportation facility reconstruction, rehabilitation, resurfacing or restoration project under STP may be used for environmental mitigation, pollution abatement or construction of storm water treatment systems. This equates to $6.7 billion in potential STP funding over six years. In addition, states may use STP and NHS funds for wetlands projects designed to offset impacts from past transportation projects. Depending on specific program requirements, both TE and restoration projects are cost-shared between Federal and Non-Federal sponsors, with an 80% Federal share.
What Water Resource Enhancement Projects Can TEA-21 Help Fund?
TEA-21 creates funding opportunities for a wide variety of water quality enhancement projects and contains additional water-related environmental and planning provisions. The following are the key water-related provisions:
Transportation Enhancements (TEs): Funded through a 10% set-aside of STP funds, TEs are projects that improve communities' cultural, aesthetic and environmental qualities. Eligible activities include, for example, bicycle and pedestrian pathways, historic preservation, acquisition of conservation or scenic easements, rails-to-trails projects, and the mitigation of water pollution due to highway runoff.
Environmental Restoration and Pollution Abatement: Under STP, up to 20% of the cost of reconstructing, rehabilitating, resurfacing or restoring a transportation facility may be used to address water pollution or environmental degradation associated with current or past projects. This could include retrofit or construction of storm water treatment systems, nonpoint source best management practices, and riparian or wetland restoration projects.
Wetlands Restoration: STP and NHS funds can be used to help address wetlands losses caused by past Federal-aid transportation projects. In a February 18, 1997, memo from its chief counsel, the Federal Highway Administration indicated that several provisions within Title 23, United States Code, allow states to use funds to "improve or restore wetlands that were affected by past Federal-aid highway projects, even if there is no current federal-aid project taking place in that vicinity."
Wetlands Mitigation Banking: TEA-21 establishes a preference for mitigation banks in STP or NHS projects that involve natural habitat or wetlands mitigation. Impacts would have to occur within the service area of the mitigation bank (e.g. watershed), and the bank would have to be approved in accordance the Federal Mitigation Banking guidance and other applicable federal laws and regulations.
Environmental Streamlining: TEA-21 requires that federal agencies work together to streamline environmental review of transportation projects. Currently, projects should be designed to address environmental impacts up-front. Streamlining will speed up reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental assessments, including wetlands and storm water permits. The goal of this provision is to integrate the review process and allow State and Federal Agencies to better address important considerations such as analysis of alternatives and cumulative environmental impacts of transportation projects.
Transportation & Community & System Preservation Pilot: This $120 million pilot encourages States, metropolitan planning organizations and local agencies to plan, develop and implement strategies that integrate transportation and community planning.
Transportation-Environment Cooperative Research Program: This provision will fund research into the relationship between highway density and ecosystem integrity. It also requires the establishment of an Advisory Board that will make recommendations about environmental research, conservation and technology transfer.
Clean Vessel Act: TEA-21 continues State grant funding for the construction of pumpout and dump station facilities in marinas. States submit proposals to build these facilities in both coastal and inland waters, and an interagency panel selects proposals offering the greatest benefit to the intended waterway and the general public.
Metropolitan and State-Wide Planning: TEA-21 consolidates the metropolitan and state-wide planning criteria established in 1991. "Protect and enhance the environment" is one of seven broad categories State DOT's and Metropolitan Planning Organizations must consider in preparing long-term transportation plans. This presents an opportunity to look at "sprawl" and to better integrate consideration of watershed plans, wetlands, habitat and open space.
Where Can I Get More Information?
You may obtain more information about TEA-21 projects in your area by contacting your State Department of Transportation or the Federal Highway Administration Division Office in your state.