SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California became the first of five eligible states under the new federal SAFETEA-LU transportation bill to participate in a pilot program allowing the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to take over the lead from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for federal environmental approvals on transportation projects.

This allows Caltrans to assume FHWA responsibilities for federal approvals under the National Environmental Policy Act and other national environmental laws for most highway projects in the state that are processed with an Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment. It also includes the ability to negotiate and respond to federal permitting and regulatory agencies directly. This is expected to speed these exchanges and allow California to be more creative, effective, and efficient in developing its approaches to transportation environmental issues.

"Allowing Caltrans to grant federal environmental approvals saves time by speeding up project production at a period when the construction program in California is at an all time high," said Caltrans Director Will Kempton.

Caltrans is required to comply with all federal environmental regulations and policies, maintaining FHWA’s environmental protection standards. Caltrans’ assumption of federal responsibilities does not remove or change any federal environmental laws, regulations, or policies.