ODOT hides environmental impacts of highway projects

The following is a
summaryof the report, "Breaking the heart of it all: How ODOT subverts the NEPA environmental review process and damages Ohio's environment and communities," produced by the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Chicago-based public interest and environmental legal advocacy and business innovation organization for the Midwest.

During the next decade, the Ohio Department of
Transportation (ODOT) is planning to complete more than
650 miles of new and expanded interstate and rural highway construction at a cost of at least $4.5 billion. The figure below illustrates the major road corridors that ODOT has targeted for expansion in the agencys Access Ohio plan, primarily through construction of four- and six-lane highways.

Many of these projects will cut through prime farmland, forest, streams and other natural resources and wildlife habitat. ODOTs road expansions also will exacerbate sprawling development, especially around metropolitan areas.

Remarkably however, ODOT is largely evading required environmental reviews of its massive road expansion program by segmenting many projects into small pieces. Shorter projects usually have fewer significant environmental impacts, which is the threshold for detailed environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Dividing large road projects into shorter pieces reduces the significance of the impacts, and therefore the need for full environmental review. Segmentation distorts the transportation planning process by fragmenting statewide and regional transportation issues into artificially smaller pieces, circumvents the environmenal review process, and masks the true environmental impacts of larger projects.

In this report, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) explains ODOTs pervasive pattern of segmentation of major road construction projects. The report includes five case studies where ODOT has avoided serious environmental review for major highway corridors,
including U.S. 30 across most of the State, and interstates and other highways connecting the States major metropolitan areas. In every case, ODOT has segmented lengthy highway projects into smaller pieces, thereby more easily justifying decisions approved by
Federal authorities not to perform the detailed environmental review otherwise required by NEPA.

The five road projects discussed in this report include:

1. U.S. Route 30 across Ohio. ODOT already has constructed substantial portions of this high-way without performing detailed environmental reviews, and ODOT is planning to construct seven additional segments of four-lane highways along the corridor without performing any detailed corridor-level environmental review.

2. Interstate 71 between Cleveland and Columbus. ODOT is planning to expand more than 75 miles of this major north-south highway to three lanes in each direction without performing any review of the sprawl-inducing consequences of increasing the highways capac-ity by 30 percent. ODOT segmented this project into four pieces, thereby allowing ODOT to evade a detailed regional review of the environmental impacts of the expansion.

3. U.S. Route 24 in Northwestern Ohio. By dividing the so-called Fort to Port highway project into three pieces, ODOT avoided a systemic evaluation of the regional environmental and transportation impacts of the costly expansion project.

4. U.S. Route 33 Southeast of Columbus. ODOTs segmentation of this highway project into at least four segments means that ODOT will never systematically
evaluate the regional environmental and economic
impacts of the expanded highway corridor.

5. State Routes 161, 37 and 16 from New Albany to
Muskingum County.
ODOT is expanding this regional corridor in at least four segments, including one absurdly short one-mile long segment, and because of a fragmented planning process ODOT has not analyzed alternatives to the road expansion or examined the environmental consequences in a full review.

ODOTs systematic avoidance of NEPA requirements has serious negative environmental and transportation planning consequences. Farmland, forest, wetlands, wildlife habitat and other irreplaceable natural areas suffer greater losses. Fragmented planning leads to poor long-term transportation decision making. And new road construction
becomes the default choice, even though other alternatives
such as regional passenger rail might offer better, more cost-effective solutions for the State. ODOTs segmentation policy ultimately consumes more farmland and forest, creates more sprawl, and results in weaker long-term planning than otherwise would occur with systemic environmental review under NEPA.

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Cuyahoga Bioregion
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Copyright 2002-2003

Back to Citizen's Transportation Plan

Full text of the Environmental Law and Policy Center's report on ODOT (Acrobat PDF file, 360 KB)

 

ODOTs systematic avoidance of NEPA requirements has serious negative environmental and transportation planning consequences. Farmland, forest, wetlands, wildlife habitat and other irreplaceable natural areas suffer greater losses. Fragmented planning leads to poor long-term transportation decision making. And new road construction becomes the default choice, even though other alternatives such as regional passenger rail might offer better, more cost-effective solutions for the State.

 

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