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New Law Reforms CEQA for Road Safety Projects

Reform bill was nearly two years in the making

SACRAMENTO – Public safety must come first. That’s the thinking behind a new law that makes it easier for cities and counties to make minor roadway safety improvements without having to go through a long process of environmental studies and jump through other costly and time-delaying hoops.Assembly Bill 890 was co-authored by Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) and Senator Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto), and joint-authored by Assemblymember Henry Perea (D-Fresno). It was signed into law Tuesday by Governor Jerry Brown, and will take effect Jan. 1, 2013. The law streamlines the process for roadway improvements by restructuring part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Olsen introduced AB 890 in February 2011, at the request of the Tuolumne County board of supervisors.

The bill moved through the Legislature in late August with massive bi-partisan support, and passed on a 106-2 vote.

“After two years of working with multiple entities and members of both parties, I am grateful to Governor Brown for signing AB 890 into law and allowing vital roadway safety projects to move forward without the threat of costly environmental regulations,” Olsen said.

In recent years, the CEQA has held up many public works projects, Olsen said in a news release.

“This bill will create a statutory exemption from CEQA for roadway safety improvements as long as the project is on an existing road and doesn’t cross a waterway or increase traffic capacity of the road,” she said.

The bill will save cities and counties hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, and help them avoid delays when minor safety improvements are urgently needed, such as adding guardrails on steep rural roads.

“This new law signals the recognition that reforms to California’s Environmental Quality Act are needed,” said Olsen. “My goal is for this to serve as a stepping stone in the reformation of further CEQA regulations and hopefully permanent solutions to its unfortunate consequences, like frivolous lawsuits.”

Olsen was praised by Assembly Natural Resources Committee Vice Chairman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) for her diligence in seeing this law through to fruition.

“The bipartisan cooperation and support in passing this bill has been exemplary and it wouldn’t have happened without Kristin’s hard work and determination,” said Knight. “Our state would benefit from the kind of collaboration that advanced this bill.”

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