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OTIA III State Bridge Delivery Program
ODOT realized early on that permitting for the OTIA III State Bridge Delivery Program would be a major challenge. The bridge program includes more than 300 bridges to be repaired or replaced by 2011. Site environmental regulations are complex, and the requirements of various agencies often overlap. In addition, ODOT maintains a strong, continuing commitment to support Oregon's economic, social, and environmental values.
As a result, ODOT decided to address regulatory requirements, as much as feasible, on a programmatic basis. That is, ODOT began working with its regulatory agency partners and consultants to address permitting needs for the bridge program as a whole. The goals were:
  • To reduce bridge design and environmental permitting times;
  • To reduce cost and schedule impacts from re-design, and
  • To maintain ODOT's strong commitment to environmental stewardship.

The key elements in this programmatic approach include programmatic permits and approvals, environmental performance standards, and a comprehensive program for mitigating environmental impacts.
During the past 35 years, a variety of state and federal laws and regulations have been enacted to protect natural resources. To obtain the necessary permits and approvals, each project that may affect regulated resources must specify how it will meet regulatory requirements. Obtaining permits and approvals for a single bridge project typically takes several months and costs tens of thousands of dollars. Clearly, attempting to permit more than 300 projects on a bridge-by-bridge basis could be a permitting jungle.
To avoid these difficulties, ODOT worked with state and federal agencies to develop a streamlined, programmatic approach to environmental regulatory compliance. As a first step, ODOT took a programmatic approach to bridge assessment and permitting.
  • Environmental assessments were done up front, for every bridge in the bridge program, using common data collection methods and a common reporting format.
  • Permitting requirements were established for the entire bridge program. If the design and construction proposed for a particular bridge meets the programmatic requirements, the permits or approvals addressed by those requirements are assured.

This environmental streamlining approach does not avoid or short-cut any regulations. Rather, it coordinates the requirements of multiple agencies, eliminates the confusion and duplication of effort that can result from attempting to meet conflicting agency requirements, and ensures comprehensive environmental protection. While each bridge must still be reviewed individually, the programmatic permits are already in place and the requirements to obtain those permits have already been defined. As a result, permitting for individual bridges will be cheaper and faster, and the design efforts more efficient, than with the traditional approach.
The core of ODOT's programmatic approach is a set of environmental performance standards. These performance standards define the requirements that project activities must meet. They are goal-oriented - that is, they define the acceptable level of effect that a project activity may have on the environment, rather than specifying exactly how the activity must be performed. For example, the Habitat Avoidance performance standard limits stream bank protection activities to those not expected to have long-term adverse effects on aquatic habitats, and lists several protection techniques. Bridge design and construction personnel have the flexibility to choose the most cost-effective method to preserve habitat at a particular site.
Collectively, performance standards address all phases of the program: administration, bridge design, bridge construction, and post-construction mitigation. If a project meets all applicable performance standards, it will be in compliance with the programmatic requirements and will receive the required permits. Although some permits and approvals (e.g., noise variances, land use exceptions) must be addressed site by site, most can be addressed programmatically, resulting in significant time and cost savings and a smoother permitting process. Because performance standards describe desired outcomes, not specific construction techniques, they enable design teams to focus on creative solutions that accommodate the unique conditions at each bridge site.

Regulatory statues strongly emphasize avoiding environmental impacts, yet in some cases this may be unavoidable or the cost to do so may be prohibitive. When this occurs, the project must compensate or mitigate for the impact. For example, if impacts to wildlife habitat at a particular site cannot be avoided, the project may have the option to restore or enhance similar habitat at another part of the site. If it is not feasible, the project may pay for an equal measure of mitigation at another location, called a mitigation bank.

ODOT is developing a comprehensive mitigation banking program to provide for these off-site mitigation needs. The mitigation banking program includes the identification and development of several mitigation banks throughout the state. It also provides ODOT and its state and federal regulatory and resource management partners with state-of-the-art tools to assess natural resource impacts, address species and habitat recovery needs, and provide ecologically valuable mitigation and conservation projects. This significantly improves the state's ability to focus on regional ecological priorities, improve watershed health, improve habitat connectivity, and make meaningful contributions to the recovery of threatened and endangered species.