Saturday, August 17, 2019

ALDOT and FHWA probably violated their own guidance by Doc Dropping environmental clearance

Pardon me while I go policy wonk on you.

On August 16, 2019 ALDOT and FHWA published a combined Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision (FEIS/ROD) on the proposed Mobile River Bridge and Bayway. This surprised a lot of people, who believed that the changes made between the 2014 EIS and the May 2019 Supplemental are significant enough to make them follow standard NEPA procedure and wait 30 days between publishing the FEIS and executing the ROD.

FHWA guidance allows for "accelerated decisionmaking," but under some fairly strict limitations.

Section 1319(b) "Single Final EIS and ROD Document"
Section 1319(b) directs the lead agency, to the maximum extent practicable, to expeditiously develop a single document that consists of an FEIS and ROD, unless certain conditions exist. Traditionally, and in accordance with the CEQ Regulations (40 CFR 1506.10(b)(2)), FEIS and ROD documents are issued as separate documents with a minimum 30-day period between the FEIS and ROD. Section 1319(b) directs the lead agency, to the maximum extent practicable, to combine the FEIS and ROD into a single document unless:
  1. The FEIS makes substantial changes to the proposed action that are relevant to environmental or safety concerns; or
  2. There are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and that bear on the proposed action or the impacts of the proposed action.

Could demolishing approximately 7 miles of 4-lane Bayway and replacing it with roughly the same length of 8-lane Bayway be a substantial change to the proposed action? One might think that the approximate $1 billion cost increase of doing so is "significant new information."

Could completely changing the proposed action from a toll-free bridge to a toll-bearing bridge and Bayway be considered significant?

Could the economic effect of imposing a maximum $6 toll to pay for the new bridge and new Bayway bear on the impacts of the proposed action?

I guess it depends on who you ask, but I'd love to hear an answer from someone here.

There are still a number of unresolved issues with the decision documents:

  • ALDOT and FHWA have still not provided a demonstration that this project's economic benefits equal or exceed its economic costs. A calculation of the crude benefits estimation in the 2014 DEIS (indexed to 2019 dollars) and compared to the estimated cost of this monstrosity produces an embarrassingly low benefit-cost-ratio of less than 0.50-to-1.0. This would mean that $0.50 would be removed from the economy for every $1.00 invested in the project (this doesn't even account for the drain imposed by the toll plan).
  • They have still not provided a complete risk analysis of replacing the existing Bayway, choosing instead to hide behind a suggestion that it be raised to withstand not just a Hurricane Katrina but the Mother of all Gulf Hurricanes. What is the expected annual risk of leaving the Bayway at the current height and adding lanes to it?
  • They have still not addressed the glaring and potentially unethical use of various inflation rates for cost and revenue forecasts. At best, someone should be permanently barred from doing any more cash flow forecasts on this project. At worst, someone could face charges for fraud.
  • et cetera

These comprise just a handful of the 19 issues I raised with the draft decision document last month. None have been addressed and they are in the public record.

As an extra point, here's an interesting story from's John Sharp from 2014. Please read it.


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