oversight

Highway Infrastructure: Stakeholders' Views on Time to Conduct Environmental Reviews of Highway Projects

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-05-23.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

             United States General Accounting Office

GAO          Report to the Chairman, Committee on
             Transportation and Infrastructure,
             House of Representatives


May 2003
             HIGHWAY
             INFRASTRUCTURE
             Stakeholders’ Views
             on Time to Conduct
             Environmental
             Reviews of Highway
             Projects




GAO-03-534
             a
                                                May 2003


                                                HIGHWAY INFRASTRUCTURE

                                                Stakeholders’ Views on Time to Conduct
Highlights of GAO-03-534, a report to the       Environmental Reviews of Highway
Chairman, House Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure               Projects



The federal government has a long-              Environmental review activities typically consist of identifying and assessing
term commitment to helping states               environmental impacts, evaluating alternatives, and gaining input and/or
construct, improve, and repair                  approvals from FHWA, resource agencies, and the public; and become more
roads and bridges to meet the                   complex if significant environmental impacts are anticipated. For the 91
nation’s mobility needs. The                    percent of projects that are expected to have minimal environmental
Federal Highway Administration
(FHWA) expects to provide states
                                                impacts, state departments of transportation need only to identify
about $20 billion for highway                   environmental features, assess possible impacts, address any resource
construction projects in fiscal year            agency and public concerns, and obtain permits, if needed. For the 6
2003. State departments of                      percent of projects where it is initially unclear whether significant
transportation are primarily                    environmental impacts may exist, additional activities occur, including
responsible for initiating and                  evaluating alternatives to the proposed project and obtaining FHWA
completing projects. Many federal               approval. For the 3 percent of highway projects with expected significant
and state agencies with                         environmental impacts, states conduct extensive environmental review,
environmental responsibilities                  including evaluating all reasonable alternatives and their environmental
(called resource agencies) help                 impacts and consult with resource agencies.
ensure that environmental issues
are considered. The environmental
review of a federally funded
                                                Stakeholders we contacted identified 43 aspects that they said frequently
highway project can take from                   (more than half the time) add more time than viewed as necessary to
several days to several years.                  environmental reviews of federally funded highway projects. A majority of
                                                stakeholders with primary responsibilities for environmental and historical
GAO is reporting on the (1)                     preservation issues and those with primary responsibilities for
activities involved in the                      transportation improvement identified five aspects as occurring frequently.
environmental reviews of federally              However, there was no overall agreement about which aspects frequently
funded highway projects and (2)                 add undue time to environmental reviews. A majority of environmental
stakeholders’ views on the aspects              stakeholders told us that state departments of transportation waited too long
of environmental review, if any,                to consider environmental impacts and involve important stakeholders. In
that unduly add time to gaining                 contrast, a majority of transportation improvement stakeholders told us that
environmental approval. GAO
obtained stakeholder views from 16
                                                state departments of transportation and federal resource agencies lack
transportation improvement and 12               sufficient staff to handle their workloads and that meeting statutory criteria
environmental officials from a                  for historic preservation projects on public lands and obtaining wetlands
variety of federal, state, and private          permits are too time consuming. However, the stakeholders generally could
organizations with responsibilities             not tell us how much time these aspects add to the reviews.
for or interests in constructing
federally funded highways. The                  Aspects Viewed as Frequently Adding Undue Time to Environmental Reviews
Department of Transportation had
no comments on a draft of this
report. Other agencies provided
either technical comments or did
not respond to our request for
comments.


www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-534.

To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Katherine
Siggerud at (202) 512-2834 or
siggerudk@gao.gov.
Contents



Letter                                                                                                   1
                             Results in Brief                                                            2
                             Background                                                                  7
                             Environmental Reviews Become More Complex the Greater the
                               Expected Impact on the Environment                                       10
                             Stakeholders’ Views Differed on Which Aspects Frequently Add
                               Undue Time to Environmental Reviews                                      20
                             Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                         25


Appendixes
              Appendix I:    Scope and Methodology                                                      27
             Appendix II:    Environmental Reviews of Projects in Maryland and North
                             Carolina Requiring an Environmental Impact Statement                       31
             Appendix III:   Aspects Identified by Stakeholders as Unduly Adding Time to
                             Environmental Reviews                                                      35


Tables                       Table 1: Attributes of Categorical Exclusions and Environmental
                                      Assessments for Federally Funded Highway Projects                 13
                             Table 2: Aspects Identified by a Majority of Environmental
                                      Stakeholders                                                      22
                             Table 3: Aspects Identified by a Majority of Transportation
                                      Improvement Stakeholders                                          24
                             Table 4: Organizations Contacted                                           28
                             Table 5: Frequency of Occurrences of Aspects That Unduly Add
                                      Time to the Environmental Review, as Identified by
                                      Stakeholders, by Rating and Type of Stakeholder                   35


Figures                      Figure 1: Key Activities under Different Types of Environmental
                                       Review                                                            5
                             Figure 2: Stakeholders’ Views on Aspects That Frequently Add
                                       Undue Time to Environmental Review                                6
                             Figure 3: Activities Involved in Completing Environmental
                                       Reviews of Projects in Maryland and North Carolina
                                       Requiring Environmental Impact Statements                        32




                             Page i                         GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Contents




Abbreviations

FHWA         Federal Highway Administration
NEPA         National Environmental Policy Act

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Page ii                                GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
A
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, D.C. 20548



                                    May 23, 2003                                                                              Lert




                                    The Honorable Don Young
                                    Chairman, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
                                    House of Representatives

                                    Dear Mr. Chairman:

                                    In order to meet the mobility needs of the United States, the federal
                                    government has had a longtime commitment to helping fund needed
                                    maintenance and expansion of the nation’s road network—from interstate
                                    highways to rural roads—in an environmentally sound manner. Given the
                                    importance of transportation to the nation’s economy, mobility, and
                                    security and the need to improve the nation’s roads to meet these needs,
                                    many transportation improvement stakeholders—such as the Federal
                                    Highway Administration (FHWA), state departments of transportation, and
                                    others—have said that completing a federally funded highway project takes
                                    too long, and that the most time consuming aspect involves environmental
                                    review.1 Transportation improvement stakeholders acknowledge that
                                    environmental reviews result in better project decisions, but say that
                                    reaching decisions is difficult and time consuming.2 The Transportation
                                    Equity Act for the 21st Century, enacted in 1998, contained provisions
                                    designed to streamline environmental reviews. As the reauthorization of
                                    this act approaches, the Congress may again consider measures for
                                    reducing the time it takes to complete a federally funded highway project
                                    so that transportation benefits are realized sooner.

                                    You requested that we (1) describe the activities involved in the
                                    environmental review of federally funded highway projects and (2) report
                                    on stakeholders’ views on which aspects of these environmental reviews, if
                                    any, unduly add time to gaining environmental approval. To carry out this
                                    work, we reviewed laws and documents related to environmental review.
                                    We asked officials from FHWA and the departments of transportation from
                                    Maryland and North Carolina to identify the activities involved in


                                    1
                                     U.S. General Accounting Office, Highway Infrastructure: Perceptions of Stakeholders on
                                    Approaches to Reduce Highway Project Completion Time, GAO-03-398 (Washington, D.C.:
                                    April 9, 2003).
                                    2
                                     U.S. General Accounting Office, Highway Infrastructure: Preliminary Information on the
                                    Timely Completion of Highway Construction Projects, GAO-03-1067T (Washington, D.C.:
                                    Sept. 19, 2002).




                                    Page 1                                GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
                   environmental review and to identify federal, state, and local agencies that
                   routinely participate in reviews of federally funded highway projects.3 To
                   obtain stakeholders’ views on aspects that add undue time—more time
                   than they view as necessary—to environmental reviews, we asked officials
                   from federal and state agencies with responsibilities relating to the
                   construction of federally funded roads, transportation professional
                   organizations, historic preservation organizations, and environmental
                   organizations to identify laws, behaviors, resource issues, or project
                   management approaches, if any, that unduly add time to environmental
                   review. We asked these officials to identify other stakeholders with
                   expertise in such reviews and asked those individuals to identify aspects
                   that they felt add undue time. Overall, 39 stakeholders identified 43 aspects
                   they have encountered during environmental reviews that they felt add
                   undue time to these reviews. We then asked these stakeholders to rate each
                   aspect on how frequently, if at all, they occur. Twenty-eight officials
                   representing different interests provided these ratings (of these 28, 16
                   stakeholders had primary transportation improvement responsibilities or
                   interests, and 12 stakeholders had primary environmental responsibilities
                   or interests). The approach we used makes two contributions. First, it
                   captures the views of a wide range of stakeholders that are identified by
                   their peers as knowledgeable. Second, it provides a systematic assessment
                   of the perceived frequency of the aspects that knowledgeable stakeholders
                   indicated add undue time to environmental reviews. We did not attempt to
                   corroborate whether or not particular aspects actually occur or the reasons
                   why stakeholders rated individual aspects as occurring more or less
                   frequently. In addition, because of the relatively small number of
                   stakeholders who rated approaches, we did not extrapolate our results
                   more broadly. (See app. I for additional details on our scope and
                   methodology.)



Results in Brief   Environmental review activities typically consist of (1) identifying and
                   assessing the environmental impacts of projects, evaluating alternatives,
                   gaining input or approvals from FHWA, federal and state agencies with

                   3
                    We chose these two states because transportation officials that we interviewed identified
                   these states as those that have studied their environmental review procedures and have
                   taken steps to improve the timeliness of environmental reviews. When discussing activities
                   involved in environmental review, we include environmentally related activities, such as
                   determining whether environmental resources are present or obtaining permits, that may be
                   undertaken before environmental reviews are started or after they are completed as well as
                   the activities that take place during environmental review.




                   Page 2                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
environmental responsibilities (resource agencies), and the public and (2)
obtaining environmental permits. The activities become more complex if
significant environmental impacts are anticipated. (See fig. 1.) FHWA
estimates that:

• Approximately 91 percent of federally funded highway projects
  (representing about 76 percent of the $17.6 billion in federal funding
  distributed to states for highway projects in fiscal year 2001) have
  minimal environmental impacts, and therefore receive “categorical
  exclusions,” qualifying them for limited environmental review. These
  projects are limited in scope—and some are so routine (such as
  installation of traffic signals) as to be pre approved by FHWA—and
  seldom add new miles of road to the road system, according to FHWA.
  For projects that qualify for a categorical exclusion, state departments
  of transportation need only identify environmental features, sufficiently
  establish that environmental impacts are minor, obtain approval for
  projects in some circumstances, and address known and foreseeable
  public and agency concerns. While there is no standard method for
  computing the length of time for environmental review, environmental
  review activities for these projects have been estimated to take an
  average of 6 to 8 months to complete, according to FHWA, and could
  take as long as an average of 22 months to complete, according to a
  report prepared for the American Association of State Highway and
  Transportation Officials.

• Approximately 6 percent of federally funded highway projects
  (representing about 15 percent of the $17.6 billion in federal funding
  distributed to states for highway projects in fiscal year 2001) receive a
  more extensive environmental review when it is initially unclear
  whether significant environmental impacts may occur (called an
  environmental assessment). Projects that qualify for environmental
  assessments do not typically add new miles of road to the road system
  according to FHWA. For these projects, state departments of
  transportation conduct additional review activities, which include (1)
  evaluating the environmental impacts of one or more alternatives to the
  proposed project, (2) consulting with the public and affected federal and
  state resource agencies, and (3) obtaining FHWA approval. While there
  is no standard method for measuring length of time for environmental
  review, environmental review activities for these projects have been
  estimated to take an average of 14 to 18 months to complete, according
  to FHWA, and could take as long as an average of 41 months to




Page 3                           GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
   complete, according to a report prepared for the American Association
   of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

• About 3 percent of federally funded highway projects (representing
  about 9 percent of the $17.6 billion in federal funding distributed to
  states for highway projects in fiscal year 2001) are likely to have
  significant environmental impacts. For these projects, state
  departments of transportation conduct the same types of additional
  activities as they do for environmental assessments, but on a more
  comprehensive basis, resulting in an environmental impact statement.
  For example, state departments of transportation evaluate all
  reasonable alternatives (rather than evaluating one or more alternatives
  as is done for environmental assessments) and, in Maryland and North
  Carolina, gain concurrence from affected federal and state resource
  agencies (rather than consulting with them). Other states may interact
  with resource agencies differently. Environmental review activities for
  these projects take an average of 5 years to complete, according to
  FHWA. This duration is measured using formal FHWA decision points.
  States, such as Maryland and North Carolina, may conduct some
  environmental review activities before or after these decision points,
  such as early identification of expected impacts and obtaining permits
  from federal agencies with responsibilities for such things as water
  quality and wetlands that extend this duration.




Page 4                          GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Figure 1: Key Activities under Different Types of Environmental Review

                                                   Categorical   Environmental    Environmental
    Activity                                        exclusion     assessment     impact statement

    Identify environmental features


    Evaluate alternativesa

    Assess impacts

    Public involvement

    FHWA approval

    Consult with affected agencies

    Obtain permits, if needed


      Required
      Required to some extent or under certain circumstances
      Not required

Source: GAO analysis of FHWA data.

a
 For an environmental assessment, states must evaluate one or more alternatives, whereas for
environmental impact statements, states must evaluate all reasonable alternatives.


Transportation improvement and environmental stakeholders differed in
their views of which of the 43 aspects they identified as frequently adding
undue time to conducting environmental reviews. In no case did a majority
of transportation improvement and a majority of environmental
stakeholders agree. (See fig. 2.) A majority of environmental stakeholders,
such as resource agencies, state historic preservation agencies, and
environmental advocacy organizations, told us that undue time is added to
environmental reviews because state departments of transportation do not
consider environmental and historic preservation impacts early enough (7
of 10 of these stakeholders responding or 70 percent), and they do not
include important stakeholders early enough (7 of 11 stakeholders
responding or 64 percent). In contrast, transportation improvement
stakeholders, such as state departments of transportation, FHWA division
offices, and transportation advocacy organizations, typically did not
identify these aspects as adding undue time. A majority of transportation
improvement stakeholders told us that a lack of sufficient staff at state
departments of transportation and federal resource agencies (11 of 16
responding or 69 percent), meeting the stringent statutory requirements for



Page 5                                            GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
historic preservation projects on public lands (“section 4(f) requirements;”
9 of 16 of these stakeholders or 56 percent) and obtaining permits for
projects on wetlands (9 of 16 stakeholders or 56 percent) frequently added
undue time to environmental reviews. Environmental stakeholders
typically did not identify these aspects as frequently adding undue time.
While stakeholders had identified these aspects as adding time to
environmental review, generally they could not estimate how much time
these aspects added.



Figure 2: Stakeholders’ Views on Aspects That Frequently Add Undue Time to
Environmental Review
          State departments of                                                                                       70
 transportation do not consider
         impacts early enough                           13


          State departments of
  transportation do not include                                                                                64
        important stakeholders                               19
                  early enough

          State departments of
                                                                                              50
     transportation and federal
        resource agencies lack                                                                                      69
                  sufficient staff

     The statutory section 4(f)
requirement protecting historic                                        30
  properties on public lands is                                                                      56
                 burdensome

    Requirements for obtaining           0
          wetland permits are
              time consuming                                                                         56

                                     0          10           20      30          40         50            60        70
                                     Percentage of stakeholders identifying aspects as occurring frequently


                                               Environmental stakeholders

                                               Transportation stakeholders

Source: GAO analysis of responses of 28 stakeholders.


Note: Not all stakeholders rated each aspect. At least 26 stakeholders (93 percent) rated each of the 5
aspects shown in this figure.


The Department of Transportation responded that it had no comments on a
draft of this report. Maryland offered several technical comments, which
we have incorporated into this report. The Department of Interior and




Page 6                                                   GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
             North Carolina did not provide a response to our request for comments on
             our report draft.



Background   Federally funded highway projects vary in size, from new lane striping or
             installing traffic signals to resurfacing an existing road or building a new
             road or interchange. Of the federally funded highway projects in 2000 that
             took place on approximately 27,000 miles of road (latest data available),
             about 26,000 miles (96 percent) involved either the addition of capacity,
             preservation, or improvements (such as widening lanes, resurfacing, and
             rehabilitating roadways) and the remaining 1,000 miles (4 percent)
             involved new road construction projects. For fiscal year 2003, FHWA
             expects to fund about $20 billion for highway infrastructure improvements
             and projects designed to relieve congestion.

             Regardless of their size and scope, federally funded highway projects are
             typically completed in four phases:

             • Planning: State and local planning organizations and state departments
               of transportation assess a project’s purpose and need and consider its
               need in relation to other potential highway projects.

             • Preliminary design and environmental review: State departments of
               transportation identify project cost, level of service, and construction
               location; identify the effect, if any, of the proposed project and
               alternatives on the environment; and select the preferred alternative.

             • Final design and right-of-way acquisition: State departments of
               transportation finalize design plans, acquire property, and relocate
               utilities.

             • Construction: State departments of transportation award construction
               contracts, oversee construction, and accept the completed project.

             Local, state, and federal governments all have a role in the planning,
             designing, and construction of federally financed highway projects. Local
             governments carry out many transportation planning functions, such as
             scheduling improvements and maintenance for local streets and roads.
             State departments of transportation are typically the focal point for
             transportation project planning and construction and are responsible for
             setting the transportation goals for the state, planning safe and efficient
             transportation, designing most projects, identifying and mitigating



             Page 7                           GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
environmental impacts, acquiring property for highway projects, and
awarding and overseeing construction contracts. At the federal level,
FHWA is the primary agency providing funding, training, approving state
transportation plans, and certifying that states have met requirements
related to environmental protection and historical preservation.

Many of the organizations with a role in highway project completion have
concluded that completing major highway construction projects takes too
long—in some cases about 20 years.4 The construction of highway projects
using federal funds can be complicated and time consuming because state
departments of transportation must adhere to a number of federal laws
pertaining to transportation, the environment, and historic preservation
and involve multiple stakeholders representing all levels of government
and the public; and for some controversial projects, this could involve
litigation.

As a condition of receiving federal funds for highway projects, state
departments of transportation must comply with the National
Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), which requires that federal
agencies consider the potential impacts on environmental resources when
considering approval of a proposed action. FHWA is responsible for
ensuring that state departments of transportation identify, assess, and, if
necessary, mitigate impacts to the natural and human (e.g., health)
environment and historic properties that may result from the construction
of a highway project. In this regard, state departments of transportation
involve federal agencies with environmental responsibilities (called
resource agencies), such as the Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife
Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and Advisory Council on
Historic Preservation, in addition to FHWA and state resource agencies
when assessing the potential impacts of a highway project in order to
comply with NEPA and other federal and state environmental
requirements. Along with NEPA, state departments of transportation must
comply with other federal statutes that may apply to a highway project,
including:

• The Clean Water Act of 1977. The Clean Water Act of 1977 was
  designed to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological
  integrity of the nation’s waters through the prevention and elimination
  of pollution. Any project, including the construction of a highway


4
GAO-03-398.




Page 8                           GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
   project, that involves the discharge of pollutants into waters of the
   United States must comply with the Clean Water Act. The act generally
   prohibits the discharge of pollutants into the waters of the United States
   without obtaining a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency,
   or in the case of discharges involving dredge or fill material, from the
   Army Corps of Engineers under section 404.

• The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1966. Section 15(a) of the act,
  popularly known as section 4(f),5 was designed to preserve publicly
  owned natural resources, such as parklands, recreation areas,
  waterfowl and wildlife refuges, and significant historic sites. Publicly
  owned lands may be used for federal highways only if there is no
  prudent and feasible alternative to using that land; and the program or
  project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the park,
  recreation area, wildlife and waterfowl refuge, or historic site from the
  use. Each highway proposal developed by the state departments of
  transportation must include avoidance and mitigation alternatives for
  publicly owned lands that may be affected by the project. The
  Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban
  Development and state or local agencies have jurisdiction over natural
  resources. State historic preservation offices and the Advisory Council
  on Historic Preservation have jurisdiction over historic sites.

• The National Historic Preservation Act. Section 106 of the National
  Historic Preservation Act requires that federal agencies consider the
  effect that a project may have on a property (e.g., districts, sites,
  buildings, structures, and objects) that is included in, or eligible for
  inclusion in, the National Register of Historic Places.

• The Endangered Species Act of 1973. Section 7 of the Endangered
  Species Act requires federal agencies to ensure that actions they
  authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued
  existence of threatened or endangered species (including fish, wildlife,
  and plants facing extinction) or result in the destruction or adverse
  modification of critical habitat for these species. In some cases, FHWA
  and state departments of transportation work with the Fish and Wildlife
  Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and state resource agencies
  to ensure compliance with the act.


5
 From section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, which contained similar
language.




Page 9                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Environmental              Environmental review of federally funded highway projects typically
                           begins when state departments of transportation, in consultation with
Reviews Become More        FHWA, determine that a proposed project may or will affect the quality of
Complex the Greater        the environment. For projects that state departments of transportation
                           demonstrate are likely to have minimal environmental impacts or in
the Expected Impact        situations in which the existence of significant environmental impacts is
on the Environment         initially unclear, FHWA provides for a simplified and less structured review
                           of environmental impacts.6 More extensive and structured environmental
                           review is required from FHWA for projects in which significant
                           environmental impacts are anticipated. This report describes
                           environmental review activities that states carry out to meet NEPA and
                           other federal environmental laws. States may carry out other
                           environmental review activities to meet state environmental requirements.



Projects with Minimal or   A highway project that is expected to have minimal environmental impacts
Initially Unclear          may qualify for limited federal environmental review (called a categorical
                           exclusion) under FHWA regulations implementing NEPA.7 These projects
Environmental Impacts
                           are limited in scope—and some are so routine (such as installation of
Require Limited            traffic signals) as to be preapproved by FHWA—and seldom add new miles
Environmental Review       of road to the road system. According to FHWA, approximately 91 percent
                           of approximately 31,000 federally funded highway projects (representing



                           6
                            According to Council on Environmental Quality regulations, the magnitude or significance
                           of environmental impacts should be considered in the context of (1) society as a whole, the
                           affected region, or the locality and (2) the intensity or severity of impacts, including the
                           degree to which the project affects public health or safety; unique characteristics of the
                           geographic area; resources listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic
                           Places; an endangered species or threatened species or their habitat; or establishes a
                           precedent for future actions with significant effects; level of controversy; relationship to
                           other actions with cumulative impacts; presence of unique or unknown risks; or potential to
                           threaten a violation of federal, state, or local law or requirements imposed for the protection
                           of the environment.
                           7
                            Under these regulations, states may determine that a project falls within a class or category
                           of projects that do not have significant environmental impact. These determinations are
                           called categorical exclusions. FHWA regulations define categorical exclusions as actions,
                           which based on past experience with similar actions, do not induce significant impacts to
                           planned growth or land use for the area; require the relocation of significant numbers of
                           people; have a significant impact on any natural, cultural, recreational, historic or other
                           resource; involve significant air, noise, or water quality impacts; have significant impacts on
                           travel patterns; or otherwise, either individually or cumulatively, have significant
                           environmental impacts.




                           Page 10                                   GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
about 76 percent of the $17.6 billion in federal funding distributed to states
for highway projects in fiscal year 2001) received categorical exclusions in
2001.

In an informal survey conducted by FHWA in 1999, its division staff
reported that it took an average of 6 months to complete the environmental
review of projects that qualified for a categorical exclusion in 1998.8 FHWA
officials reported that it takes even less time, sometimes as little as several
days, to complete categorical exclusions for projects that FHWA has
preapproved for limited environmental review (for example, landscaping
or installation of road signs). In a survey conducted for the American
Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 2000, state
transportation officials estimated that it took an average of 8 months to
complete the activities involved in environmental review of categorical
exclusion projects that they had classified as not delayed.9 However, these
state transportation officials also reported that, for projects they selected
for the survey, it took an average of 22 months to complete activities
involved in environmental review for categorical exclusion projects that
they had identified as delayed. There is no standard method for measuring
length of time for environmental review.

Some of the projects that qualify for a categorical exclusion are considered
by FHWA to be routine—with little or no environmental impact such as bus
and rail car rehabilitation, construction of bike paths, landscaping,
installation of traffic signals, ride-sharing activities, or improvements to
existing rest areas—and have been preapproved by FHWA for limited
environmental review. For preapproved projects, state department of
transportation need only to sufficiently establish that there are no
significant impacts. State departments of transportation do not need to
identify mitigation measures, address public and agency concerns, or gain


8
 FHWA officials told us that these results should be considered as a general exploration of
time frames, rather than a definitive assessment.
9
 The researchers defined delay to mean the amount of time beyond what state officials
estimated was a reasonable length of time for completing environmental review. State
department of transportation officials were asked to estimate what would be a reasonable
length of time for environmental review and also report the actual time for environmental
review of two projects that typified delays their state had experienced with categorical
exclusions. In total, 51 projects that qualified for categorical exclusions were identified.
TransTech Management, Inc., Environmental Streamlining: A Report on Delays
Associated with the Categorical Exclusion and Environmental Assessment Process
(Washington, D.C.: October 2000).




Page 11                                  GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
FHWA’s approval of the state’s assessment of environmental impacts. Other
projects—such as bridge rehabilitation, construction of bus or rail storage
or maintenance facilities, or adding shoulders—have somewhat greater
potential for environmental impact but may also qualify for a categorical
exclusion. However, because of the greater potential to cause significant
environmental impacts or generate substantial controversy, they are not
preapproved by FHWA. Instead, for these types of projects, FHWA advises
state departments of transportation to conduct environmental review
activities commensurate with the level of impact, including (1) identifying
environmental features that will be affected by the project (if any); (2)
assessing the environmental impacts caused by the project to the extent
that it is clearly established that impacts are minor; (3) addressing public,
federal, and state resource agency concerns where adverse impacts are
likely to occur; (4) gaining FHWA’s approval for classification as a
categorical exclusion; and (5) obtaining permits, if needed, to clearly
establish that there is little potential for significant impacts and that the
project’s classification as a categorical exclusion is appropriate. (See table
1.)




Page 12                           GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Table 1: Attributes of Categorical Exclusions and Environmental Assessments for Federally Funded Highway Projects

Activity                          Categorical exclusion                                                 Environmental assessment
Identify environmental            Identify environment features that may require                        Identify environment features that may require additional
features                          additional environmental review.                                      environmental review.
Evaluate alternatives             Not required.                                                         Consideration of alternatives is required and must include
                                                                                                        the impact of not building the project, but need not
                                                                                                        evaluate all reasonable alternatives.
Assess impacts                    Projects that involve no construction or limited                      For each alternative considered, determine the severity of
                                  construction may automatically qualify for limited                    impacts and any mitigation to reduce or eliminate
                                  environmental review; for other projects, the level of                unavoidable impacts, but need only address those
                                  analysis should be sufficient to clearly establish that               features that have a reasonable possibility for significant
                                  impacts are minor.                                                    impacts.
Involve public                    Where adverse impacts are likely to occur, public                     Environmental assessments do not need to be circulated
                                  concerns should be addressed.                                         for comment, but must be made available for public
                                                                                                        inspection and invite comments from the public.
Obtain FHWA approval Not required for most categorical exclusion projects.                              FHWA must approve the environmental assessment
                     However, for unusual circumstances, including                                      before it is made available to the public. FHWA will either
                     significant impacts or substantial controversy, FHWA                               find that the project has no significant impact on the
                     approval is needed to determine whether the                                        environment or that the impact is significant and an
                     classification is proper.                                                          environmental impact statement must be prepared.
Consult with resource             Where adverse impacts are likely to occur, resource Obtain feedback from resource agencies on the scope of
agencies                          agency concerns should be addressed.                project, which aspects of the project have the potential for
                                                                                      environmental impact, identify alternatives, and measures
                                                                                      to mitigate.
Obtain permits, if                Required.                                                             Required.
needed
Source: GAO analysis of FHWA regulations and technical guidance on preparing environmental documents.


                                                                 If it is initially unclear whether a transportation project will have a
                                                                 significant impact on the environment, then FHWA requires that the state
                                                                 department of transportation prepare an environmental assessment.
                                                                 According to FHWA, projects that qualify for environmental assessments
                                                                 do not typically add new miles of road to the road system. FHWA estimates
                                                                 that approximately 6 percent of approximately 31,000 federally funded
                                                                 roadway projects (representing about 15 percent of the $17.6 billion in
                                                                 federal funding distributed to states for highway projects in fiscal year
                                                                 2001) required an environmental assessment in 2001. In an informal survey
                                                                 conducted by FHWA in 1999, its division staff reported that it took an
                                                                 average of 18 months to complete the activities involved in an
                                                                 environmental assessment in 1998. In a survey conducted for the American
                                                                 Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 2000, state
                                                                 transportation officials estimated that it took an average of 14 months to
                                                                 complete the review of environmental assessment projects that they




                                                                 Page 13                                        GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
                        classified as not delayed. However, state transportation officials also
                        reported that, for projects they selected for the survey, it took an average of
                        41 months to complete the review of environmental assessment projects
                        that they classified as delayed.10

                        For projects that will likely require an environmental assessment, such as
                        road widening or interchange construction projects, the state department
                        of transportation, in consultation with FHWA, must conduct more
                        extensive environmental review activities than are required for projects
                        that receive a categorical exclusion, commensurate with the potential for
                        significant environmental impact. For an environmental assessment, the
                        state department of transportation must (1) identify environmental
                        features that will be affected by the proposed project; (2) evaluate one or
                        more alternatives (but need not evaluate all reasonable alternatives); (3)
                        assess impacts to the environment caused by the project or any of its
                        alternatives and determine measures to mitigate unavoidable
                        environmental impacts; and (4) invite comments and obtain feedback from
                        the public and interested federal, state, and local agencies. Additionally,
                        states must obtain permits if required by other environmental laws. FHWA
                        must approve the environmental assessment and it must be made available
                        for public inspection. If FHWA determines that no significant
                        environmental impacts have been identified, then it will issue a finding that
                        there is no significant impact. If at any point during the assessment, FHWA
                        determines that the project is likely to have a significant impact on the
                        environment, then an environmental impact statement will be required.



Significant Expected    NEPA requires federal agencies to prepare an environmental impact
Environmental Impacts   statement for all actions (including federally funded highway projects) that
                        are likely to significantly affect the environment. An environmental impact
Require Substantial
                        statement is a public document that discusses the purpose of and need for
Environmental Review    the project, alternatives to the project, the affected environment, the
                        impacts of the alternatives to the affected environment and public and
                        agency comments received. While the requirements for the information
                        included in an environmental impact statement are consistent across
                        states, the steps taken in the environmental review of projects requiring an
                        environmental impact statement are not the same in all states, and there
                        exists no common model among states for undertaking the review


                        10
                             In total, 50 projects that qualified for environmental assessments were identified.




                        Page 14                                     GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
activities that are required to produce an environmental impact statement.
Federally funded highway projects that are likely to require an
environmental impact statement include the construction of a new segment
of controlled access freeway or fixed rail, or projects which make it likely
that there will be significant environmental effects. Typically, state
departments of transportation are responsible for coordinating the
activities of environmental review involving environmental impact
statements.

According to FHWA, approximately 3 percent of approximately 31,000
federally funded highway projects (representing about 9 percent of the
$17.6 billion in federal funding distributed to states for highway projects in
fiscal year 2001) required an environmental impact statement in 2001.
According to FHWA, projects requiring an environmental impact statement
and for which FHWA approved the environmental impact statement in
2001, environmental review took an average of approximately 5 years to
complete.11 While FHWA reports that the average time to complete an
environmental review for these projects decreased by about 8 months
between 1999 and 2001, it nevertheless still takes approximately twice as
long to complete environmental review as it did in the 1970s.12 A report
prepared for FHWA stated that for projects constructed in the last 30 years,
environmental review for projects requiring an environmental impact
statement accounted for 3.6 years, or approximately 28 percent of the
overall time for project completion.13

In this section of the report, we describe the steps that two states,
Maryland and North Carolina, typically take in identifying and assessing
significant environmental impacts and gaining concurrence for major
transportation projects. (See app. II for a flow chart depicting these
activities.) These two state departments of transportation typically carry


11
  This duration is measured using formal FHWA decision points. States, such as Maryland
and North Carolina, may conduct some environmental review activities before or after these
decision points, such as early identification of expected impacts and obtaining permits from
federal agencies with responsibilities for such things as water quality and wetlands that
extend this duration.
12
 In 2002, the average time to complete an environmental review for projects requiring an
environmental impact statement was 6.5 years, according to FHWA.
13
 Federal Highway Administration, Evaluating the Performance of Environmental
Streamlining: Development of a NEPA Baseline for Measuring Continuous Performance
(Washington, D.C.: May 8, 2001).




Page 15                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
out environmental review activities in four phases: (1) developing an
understanding of the extent to which the project is expected to affect the
environment, (2) identifying alternatives and assessing environmental
impacts, (3) gaining approval on draft environmental impact statement and
selecting the preferred alternative, and (4) gaining final approval for
environmental analysis. Resource agencies, the public, and other
stakeholders provide input at each of these phases. However, these states
may carry out some environmental activities even before the first phase,
such as considering whether environmental impacts are likely when they
develop their state transportation improvement plan. Further, attention to
environmental impacts may occur even after FHWA and permit agencies
approve the project if the environmental analysis is challenged in court.14

Developing an understanding of expected environmental impacts. In
this phase, the Maryland and North Carolina departments of transportation
develop the scope and purpose of and need for the proposed transportation
project. To determine the potential for environmental impacts, the state
department of transportation incorporates existing environmental
information and feedback from stakeholders about the project that may
have been obtained through the development of the state’s transportation
improvement plan.15 In addition, Maryland and North Carolina departments
of transportation identify preliminary information on environmental
features and resources including wetlands, floodplains, historic sites,
parklands, and endangered species, as well as the area to be affected by the
proposed project. FHWA notifies the public through the Federal Register
that detailed environmental review is needed for the proposed highway
project (called a notice of intent). In addition, Maryland and North Carolina
departments of transportation invite local officials, federal, state, and local
agencies with environmental responsibilities, and the public at large to
discuss the purpose and need, the proposed scope, environmental features
identified, and substantial issues related to the project. In addition to
environmental review activities required by NEPA, permits or consultation
required by other environmental laws may be needed (e.g., coastal


14
 Federal law allows court challenges within 6 years of final federal approval of an
environmental impact statement.
15
 States are statutorily required to undertake a continuous transportation planning process
which, among other things, considers the environmental effects of transportation decisions
to develop a transportation improvement program which identifies and prioritizes only
those transportation projects proposed that are reasonably expected to have funding
available.




Page 16                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
resources). For projects in Maryland or North Carolina that require a
permit under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the state department of
transportation will also normally obtain concurrence on the purpose of and
need for the proposed project from the Army Corps of Engineers, the
Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and
FHWA. Other states may not obtain concurrence. In addition, Maryland and
North Carolina state departments of transportation may also obtain
concurrence from the National Park Service, the Coast Guard, the Forest
Service, and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service, if the project is in the
vicinity of a geographic area for which an agency has jurisdiction.

Identifying alternatives and assessing environmental impacts. This
phase typically begins with Maryland and North Carolina state departments
of transportation identifying alternatives to the proposed project.
Following guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality, FHWA
requires that the state department of transportation consider a reasonable
range of alternatives that accomplish its objectives, including an alternative
of not building the project.16 For each alternative, state departments of
transportation must identify the environment that will be affected.
Maryland and North Carolina departments of transportation then obtain
feedback on the alternatives they have developed from the public and from
federal, state, and local agencies that have environmental responsibilities.
Maryland and North Carolina state departments of transportation evaluate
comments from the public and agencies and select a subset of alternatives
for more detailed study. For alternatives selected for detailed study,
Maryland and North Carolina state departments of transportation conduct
detailed engineering and environmental analyses of the impacts to natural,
socioeconomic, and cultural resources, including historic resources and
endangered species, and begin identifying measures to avoid, minimize, or
mitigate impacts. The last activity in identifying alternatives and assessing
environmental impacts is to invite the public, local officials, and federal,
state, and local agencies with environmental responsibilities to discuss the
rationale and issues related to the subset of alternatives selected. For
projects in Maryland or North Carolina that require a permit under section
404 of the Clean Water Act, the state department of transportation will also


16
  According to the Council on Environmental Quality, which developed regulations
implementing NEPA, reasonable alternatives are those that are practical or feasible from the
technical and economic standpoint, rather than simply desirable from the standpoint of the
agency. For example, reasonable alternatives for a major urban highway project could
include considering options such as fringe parking, ridesharing, high occupancy vehicle
lanes, and mass transit.




Page 17                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
normally obtain concurrence on the criteria for alternative selection and
the alternatives to be evaluated from the Army Corps of Engineers, the
Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, and FHWA.
Other states may not obtain concurrence. In addition, Maryland and North
Carolina state departments of transportation may also obtain concurrence
from the National Park Service, the Coast Guard, the Forest Service, and/or
the National Marine Fisheries Service, if the project is in the vicinity of a
geographic area for which an agency has jurisdiction.

Gaining approval on draft environmental impact statement and
selecting the preferred alternative. In this phase, Maryland and North
Carolina state departments of transportation attempt to gain approval from
FHWA on preliminary efforts to meet environmental requirements and
concurrence from resource agencies on selecting the preferred alternative.
If FHWA is satisfied that the state department of transportation has
adequately identified all reasonable alternatives to the proposed action and
discusses the reasons why other alternatives were eliminated from detailed
study, then FHWA will provide approval of the state’s preliminary efforts in
meeting environmental requirements. After receiving FHWA’s approval,
state departments of transportation will obtain and analyze comments from
the public and from resource agencies to help the state department of
transportation in selecting the preferred alternative.17 After Maryland and
North Carolina state departments of transportation select the preferred
alternative, they develop additional avoidance and mitigation efforts, if
needed. Finally, Maryland and North Carolina state departments of
transportation will obtain feedback from the public and agencies on its
selection of the preferred alternative and address any concerns in the final
environmental impact statement. For projects in Maryland or North
Carolina that require a permit under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the
state department of transportation will also normally obtain concurrence
on the preferred alternative from the Army Corps of Engineers, the
Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and
FHWA. Other states may not obtain concurrence. In addition, the state
department of transportation may also obtain concurrence from the
National Park Service, the Coast Guard, the Forest Service, and/or the




17
  According to the Council on Environmental Quality, the preferred alternative is the
alternative which the state department of transportation believes would best fulfill its
statutory mission and responsibilities, giving consideration to economic, environmental,
technical, and other factors.




Page 18                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
National Marine Fisheries Service, if the project is in the vicinity of a
geographic area for which an agency has jurisdiction.

Gaining final approval for environmental analysis and permits. In
this phase, the state department of transportation attempts to gain final
approval from FHWA on its efforts to meet environmental review
requirements. If FHWA is satisfied that the state department of
transportation has adequately identified the preferred alternative;
evaluated all reasonable alternatives considered; and complied, to the
extent possible, with all applicable environmental laws and executive
orders; or has provided reasonable assurance that these requirements can
be met, then FHWA issues final approval on the state’s efforts in meeting
environment review requirements. The state department of transportation
will then circulate the final environmental impact statement for public and
agency comment. The state department of transportation will respond to
comments and FHWA will issue its decision (called a record of decision).18

In addition to the activities described above, state departments of
transportation may need to undertake additional activities to consult with
or obtain permits or approvals from federal, state, and local agencies
before they can begin construction when a project may impact coastal
resources, air quality, wetlands, historic and cultural resources,
floodplains, ecosystems, national park lands, and endangered species,
among others in order to complete environmental review. Finally, the
environmental review process may have to be reopened in situations such
as when a project does not move forward because of funding shortages and
stakeholders believe that possible environmental impacts have changed
and in cases of successful lawsuits involving environmental issues
associated with the project. Only after lawsuits, funding, or other
environmental issues have been resolved will Maryland and North Carolina
state departments of transportation typically allocate funding to begin
construction.




18
 FHWA cannot issue its decision until 30 days have elapsed from when the public and
resource agencies had an opportunity to comment on the final environmental impact
statement.




Page 19                               GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Stakeholders’ Views          Stakeholders of highway construction projects we contacted identified 43
                             aspects that they said added undue time (more time than what
Differed on Which            stakeholders viewed as necessary to complete the review) to
Aspects Frequently           environmental reviews of federally funded highway projects. A majority of
                             stakeholders with primary responsibilities for environmental and historical
Add Undue Time to            preservation issues, and those with primary responsibilities for
Environmental                transportation improvement, identified five aspects as occurring
Reviews                      frequently; but there was no agreement across groups about which aspects
                             add undue time. (See table 5 in app. III for how stakeholders rated each of
                             the 43 aspects.)

                             The stakeholders we contacted indicated that aspects adding undue time to
                             environmental reviews generally occurred at about the same frequency,
                             regardless of whether the type of environmental review was a categorical
                             exclusion, environmental assessment, or environmental impact statement.
                             While the stakeholders we contacted identified various aspects of
                             environmental reviews as adding undue time, generally, they could not
                             estimate how much time these aspects add to environmental reviews.



Environmental and            While stakeholders with similar responsibilities or interests identified
Transportation               several aspects as frequently adding undue time to environmental reviews,
                             no agreement existed across groups. For the most part, environmental
Improvement Stakeholders     stakeholders, such as resource agencies, state historic preservation
Differed in Their Views of   agencies, and environmental advocacy organizations, told us that state
Which Aspects Frequently     departments of transportation waited too long to consider environmental
Add Undue Time               impacts and involve important stakeholders. On the other hand,
                             transportation improvement stakeholders, such as state departments of
                             transportation, FHWA division offices, and transportation advocacy
                             organizations, identified aspects related to environmental laws and staffing
                             adequacy.

                             Of the 43 aspects identified by all stakeholders, a majority of the
                             environmental stakeholders identified 2 aspects as frequently adding undue
                             time to environmental reviews.19 (See table 2.)


                             19
                              Stakeholders rated each aspect according to the following scale: 1 = almost never or never;
                             2 = less than half of the time; 3 = about half of the time; 4 = more than half of the time; 5 = all
                             or almost all of the time. Stakeholders also could indicate that they did not know or that the
                             aspect was not relevant.




                             Page 20                                    GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
• Impacts not considered early enough. Seventy percent of the
  environmental stakeholders (7 of 10) who provided a rating for this
  aspect, told us that undue time is frequently added to environmental
  reviews because state departments of transportation generally do not
  consider environmental and historic preservation impacts early enough
  in the environmental review.20 An official with the Council on
  Environmental Quality, which oversees federal agency implementation
  of the environmental impact assessments, stated that when
  environmental activities related to NEPA are not considered during the
  planning phase of a highway project, agreements made during the
  planning phase must be revisited once a NEPA review starts, thus
  unduly adding time to environmental reviews. In contrast, 12 percent of
  transportation improvement stakeholders (2 of 16) cited this aspect as
  occurring frequently.

• Important stakeholders not included early. Sixty-four percent of the
  environmental stakeholders (7 of 11) who provided a rating for this
  aspect told us that undue time is frequently added to environmental
  reviews because state departments of transportation generally do not
  include important stakeholders early in the environmental review. For
  example, a state historic preservation officer said that the state historic
  preservation office often was involved too late in the environmental
  review, leading to time delays on the project. The state department of
  transportation had spent time and money developing projects prior to
  allowing the state historical preservation office to review project plans.
  When the state historical preservation office had a concern with a
  project, the state department had to change or redesign its plans causing
  cost increases and time delays. In contrast, 19 percent of the
  transportation improvement stakeholders (3 of 16) cited this aspect as
  frequently adding undue time to reviews.




20
 Not all stakeholders rated each aspect. At least 25 stakeholders (89 percent) responded to
every aspect.




Page 21                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Table 2: Aspects Identified by a Majority of Environmental Stakeholders

                                               Percent of stakeholders rating aspect as occurring
                                              frequently (number of stakeholders in parentheses)
                                                                         Transportation
Aspect cited by                                    Environmental           improvement               All
stakeholders                                        stakeholders           stakeholders     stakeholders
State departments of
transportation do not consider
environmental and historic
impacts early enough in the
environmental review.                                     70 (7 of 10)      12 (2 of 16)     35 (9 of 26)
State departments of
transportation do not include
important stakeholders early
in the environmental review.                              64 (7 of 11)      19 (3 of 16)     37 (10 of 27)
Source: GAO analysis of responses from 28 stakeholders.

Note: Includes only those aspects identified by a majority of the environmental stakeholders as
occurring frequently. Percentages are based on the number of stakeholders rating each aspect.


Of the 43 aspects identified overall, a majority of transportation
improvement stakeholders identified 3 aspects as frequently adding undue
time to environmental reviews. (See table 3.)

• State departments and federal resource agencies lack sufficient
  staff. Sixty-nine percent of transportation improvement stakeholders
  (11 of 16) who provided a rating for this aspect told us that undue time is
  frequently added to environmental reviews because state departments
  of transportation and federal resource agencies lack sufficient staff to
  handle their responsibilities in a timely manner. This aspect was cited as
  occurring frequently by a majority of the transportation improvement
  stakeholders and by half of the environmental stakeholders (5 of the 10)
  who provided ratings for this aspect. According to FHWA, state
  departments of transportation are using different methods to attempt to
  provide sufficient staff to carry out environmental reviews, such as
  hiring consultants to complete environmental analyses when their own
  staff resources are limited. In addition, according to FHWA, 34 states are
  funding additional staff at state and federal environmental agencies to
  facilitate environmental reviews and approval. In a recent report,
  stakeholders identified this latter approach as a promising approach




Page 22                                                   GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
       that states are using to reduce the overall time it takes to complete
       federally funded highway projects.21

• Section 4(f) historic preservation requirement considered
  burdensome. Fifty-six percent of the transportation improvement
  stakeholders (9 of 16) told us that section 4(f) adds undue time to
  environmental reviews because it is inflexible and, therefore,
  burdensome to comply with. Section 4(f) prohibits the Department of
  Transportation from approving any highway project that uses, among
  other things, publicly owned land of an historic site of national, state, or
  local significance unless it finds that (1) there is no prudent and feasible
  alternative that avoids such resources or causes less harm to them and
  (2) the project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to those
  resources. In April 2003, we reported that many stakeholders consider
  these reviews as burdensome and inflexible and that alternative
  approaches could protect historic properties and take less time to reach
  resolution.22 In that report, a large majority of the stakeholders we
  contacted indicated that historic property protections under section 106
  of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (which requires that
  projects subject to federal agency jurisdiction or licensing consider the
  effects on any properties included in, or eligible for inclusion in, the
  National Register of Historic Places) offered a flexible mediation
  process that brings all parties into discussion and allowed for more
  productive outcomes that preserve the goals of the transportation
  project, while creating meaningful protections of historic properties. In
  contrast, 30 percent of the environmental stakeholders (3 of 10) who
  provided a rating for this aspect cited it as occurring frequently,
  resulting in undue time being added to environmental reviews.

• Obtaining wetlands permits considered time consuming. Fifty-six
  percent of the transportation improvement stakeholders (9 of 16) told
  us that section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which requires that projects
  receive a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers if water impacts
  exist, frequently adds undue time to environmental reviews. These
  stakeholders described a variety of issues, including that section 404
  adds undue time because the Corps requires extensive alternative
  analysis, even for minor projects, to demonstrate that there is no


21
     GAO-03-398.
22
     GAO-03-398.




Page 23                              GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
     practicable alternative to building on wetlands. None of the
     environmental stakeholders rated this aspect as occurring frequently in
     adding undue time to environmental reviews.



Table 3: Aspects Identified by a Majority of Transportation Improvement
Stakeholders

                                               Percent of stakeholders rating aspect as occurring
                                              frequently (number of stakeholders in parentheses)
                                               Transportation
Aspect cited by                                  improvement          Environmental
stakeholders                                     stakeholders          stakeholders      All stakeholders
State departments of
transportation and federal
resource agencies lack
sufficient staff to handle their
responsibilities in a timely
manner.                                            69 (11 of 16)         50 (5 of 10)        62 (16 of 26)
The section 4(f) requirement
that the state department of
transportation prove there is
no prudent and feasible
alternative is burdensome.                           56 (9 of 16)         30 (3 of 10)       46 (12 of 26)
Section 404 causes delays
since it values water
resources over other
resources leading state
departments of transportation
to complete time-consuming
analysis.                                            56 (9 of 16)          0 (0 of 10)        35 (9 of 26)
Source: GAO analysis of responses from 28 stakeholders.

Note: Includes only those aspects identified by a majority of the transportation improvement
stakeholders as occurring frequently.


In our April report on stakeholders’ perceptions of the most promising
approaches for reducing highway project completion time (covering all
aspects of a highway project from planning through construction),
stakeholders identified 13 most promising approaches. Nine of these
approaches involved environmental review, such as funding specialized
staff at resource agencies and unifying section 404 and NEPA reviews. Four
of the five aspects that stakeholders told us add undue time to
environmental reviews relate specifically to promising approaches cited in
the April report. These are approaches for increasing resource agency staff,
providing early consideration of environmental impacts by state
departments of transportation, inclusion of important stakeholders early in



Page 24                                                   GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
                      environmental review, and handling the exacting requirements of section
                      4(f). In our April report, we recommended that FHWA consider the benefits
                      of the 13 most promising approaches and act to foster the adoption of the
                      most cost effective and feasible approaches. FHWA generally agreed with
                      this recommendation and stated that most, if not all, of the promising
                      approaches coincide with the streamlining activities that the department
                      and its partners, such as state departments of transportation and resource
                      agencies, have been developing and implementing under section 1309 of
                      the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. We believe that acting on
                      that recommendation will address some of the concerns identified by the
                      environmental and transportation improvement stakeholders in this report.



Agency Comments and   We provided the Departments of Transportation and Interior with a draft of
                      this report for their review and comment. The Department of
Our Evaluation        Transportation responded that it had no comments, and the Department of
                      Interior did not provide a response to our request for comments. We also
                      provided Maryland and North Carolina with the portion of the draft report
                      dealing with environmental review activities in their states. Maryland
                      offered several technical comments, which we have incorporated into this
                      report. North Carolina did not provide a response to our request for
                      comments.


                      As arranged with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents
                      earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days after the
                      date of this letter. At that time, we will send copies of this report to
                      congressional committees with responsibilities for highway and
                      environmental issues; the Secretary of Transportation; the Secretary of
                      Defense; the Secretary of the Interior; the Administrator, Federal Highway
                      Administration; and the Director, Office of Management and Budget. We
                      will also make copies available to others upon request. This report will be
                      available at no charge on our home page at http://www.gao.gov.




                      Page 25                            GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact
either James Ratzenberger at ratzenbergerj@gao.gov or me at
siggerudk@gao.gov. Alternatively, we may be reached at (202) 512-2834.
Key contributors to this report were Samer Abbas, Michelle Dresben,
Brandon Haller, Hiroshi Ishikawa, Gail Marnik, Kristen Massey, and James
Ratzenberger.

Sincerely yours,




Katherine Siggerud
Acting Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues




Page 26                          GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Appendix I

Scope and Methodology                                                                         A
                                                                                              A
                                                                                              ppep
                                                                                                 nen
                                                                                                   d
                                                                                                   xIeis




             To perform our work, we reviewed laws and regulations governing
             environmental reviews of federally funded highway projects. We discussed
             the activities involved, the time it takes to complete environmental reviews,
             and aspects that may increase the time it takes to complete such reviews
             with officials from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), state
             departments of transportation, federal resource agencies, transportation
             advocacy organizations, environmental advocacy organizations, and
             historic preservation agencies. We also reviewed federal, state, and private
             studies on environmental reviews of transportation projects.

             To determine the activities required to complete environmental reviews of
             federally funded highway projects and the stakeholders involved in the
             reviews, we obtained information from FHWA, the Maryland Department of
             Transportation, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. We
             chose these states because officials we interviewed identified these states
             as those that have studied their environmental review procedures and
             taken steps to improve the timeliness of environmental reviews. While the
             general requirements for an environmental impact statement (identify
             environmental features, evaluate alternatives, assess impacts, involve the
             public, etc.) are the same for all states, each state may implement the
             requirements differently.

             To determine stakeholders’ views on the aspects that frequently add undue
             time to environmental reviews of federally funded highway projects, we
             contacted 51 organizations with a role or interest in highway project
             environmental reviews. (See table 4.) Of these 51 organizations, officials
             from 39 agreed to participate in interviews, including federal and state
             agencies with responsibilities relating to the construction of federally
             funded roads, federal agencies with responsibilities relating to the
             protection of the environment, transportation engineering organizations,
             transportation professional associations, environmental organizations, and
             historic preservation organizations. To identify the 51 organizations, we
             initially contacted agencies and organizations that have a role or interest in
             highway project environmental reviews or that have been vocal on the
             issue. We asked these officials to identify, for subsequent interviews, other
             agencies or organizations undertaking or knowledgeable about
             environmental reviews. We continued to ask for names from the
             subsequent organizations until we began getting duplicate referrals.




             Page 27                           GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Appendix I
Scope and Methodology




Table 4: Organizations Contacted

Organizations
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
American Highway Users Alliance
American Road and Transportation Builders Association
American Society of Civil Engineers
ARCADIS
Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations
Binghamton Metropolitan Transportation Study
California Department of Transportation
Colorado Department of Transportation
Connecticut Department of Transportation
Conservation Law Foundation
Council for Environmental Quality
Defenders of Wildlife
Denver Regional Council of Governments
East-West Gateway Coordinating Council
Endangered Species Coalition
Environmental Defense
Federal Highway Administration – Connecticut Division
Federal Highway Administration – Texas Division
Federal Highway Administration – Virginia Division
Florida Department of Transportation, Environmental Management Office
Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Institute of Transportation Engineers
Kentucky State Historical Preservation Office
Kentucky Transportation Cabineta
Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, Environmental Section
Maryland State Highway Administration, Project Planning Division
Metroplan
National Coalition to Defend NEPA
National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers
Natural Resources Defense Council
National Trust for Historic Preservation
New Hampshire Department of Transportation, Environmental Bureau
North Carolina Department of Transportation, Planning and Environmental Office




Page 28                                    GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Appendix I
Scope and Methodology




(Continued From Previous Page)
Organizations
Ohio Department of Transportation, Office of Environmental Services
Oregon Department of Transportation, Environmental Services Section
Parsons Brinckerhoff
Puget Sound Regional Council
R.J. Behar & Company, Inc.
South Carolina Department of Transportation
Surface Transportation Policy Project
Texas Department of Transportation, Environmental Affairs Division
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Federal Program Activities
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pennsylvania Ecological Services Field Office
U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution
Vermont Agency of Transportation, Technical Service Unit
Vermont Division for Historic Preservation
Washington State Department of Transportation
Source: GAO.
a
 The official from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet participated as part of a group of officials from
the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in the semi-structured
interview to identify aspects and individually in rating the frequency of aspects.


Using a semi-structured interview, we asked knowledgeable stakeholders
at each of the 39 organizations to provide information about the aspects of
laws, stakeholders’ behaviors, resource availability, or project management
approaches, if any, that unduly add time to environmental reviews. We used
these categories because they are related to components of the
environmental review process. For each aspect cited, we asked
stakeholders to provide information on (1) how the aspect leads to an
undue increase in review time; (2) the positive and negative outcomes, if
any; (3) at what stage in the review the aspect occurred; (4) an example and
the amount of time it added to the review; and (5) the type of
environmental review (e.g., categorical exclusion, environmental
assessment, or environmental impact statement) where the aspect
occurred. We did not define the term undue time but relied on the
stakeholders’ professional judgment to determine which aspects added
time that would not be added ordinarily. Most stakeholders did not provide
estimates of the amount of time the aspect added to the review.

To determine how frequently the aspects occur, we compiled a list of 43
aspects identified by stakeholders as adding unnecessary time to



Page 29                                       GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Appendix I
Scope and Methodology




environmental reviews and asked each of the 39 stakeholders we
interviewed to rate how frequently each aspect adds undue time to
environmental reviews for highway projects involving categorical
exclusions, environmental assessments, and environmental impact
statements using a scale of 1 to 5.1 Twenty-eight stakeholders agreed to
participate in this segment of our work. The 11 stakeholders who did not
participate in this segment chose not to do so for a variety of reasons. At
least 25 stakeholders (89 percent) rated each of the 43 aspects. We
identified the most significant aspects as those where a majority of the
stakeholders responding to the question indicated it occurred frequently
(more than half to all or almost all the time).

Stakeholders made a significant distinction by type review in less than 8
percent of all responses. We defined a significant distinction as a response
that had a greater than 1 point difference (on the 1-5 scale) between the
rating of either the categorical exclusion, environmental assessment, and
environmental impact statements from the rating averages of responses for
a given aspect.

We did not attempt to corroborate whether or not particular aspects
actually occur or the reasons why stakeholders rated individual aspects as
occurring more or less frequently. We conducted our work from November
2002 through May 2003 in accordance with generally accepted government
auditing standards.




1
 1 = almost never or never; 2 = less than half of the time; 3 = about half of the time; 4 = more
than half of the time; 5 = all or almost all of the time. Stakeholders could also indicate that
they did not know or that the aspect was not relevant.




Page 30                                   GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Appendix II

Environmental Reviews of Projects in
Maryland and North Carolina Requiring an
Environmental Impact Statement                                                                              AppenIx
                                                                                                                  di




              Figure 3 depicts the types and duration (assuming no significant
              disagreements with stakeholders at key decision points) of all federally
              required, environmental-related review activities (including those that may
              be undertaken prior to notice of intent and after record of decision)
              involved in the environmental review of federally funded highway projects
              in Maryland and North Carolina requiring an environmental impact
              statement.1 State requirements are not depicted. The flowchart depicts
              Maryland and North Carolina departments of transportation undertaking
              permit-related activities early in the process. Other states may not do so.

              Maryland and North Carolina carry out some environmental activities even
              before the first phase, such as considering whether environmental impacts
              are likely when they develop their state transportation improvement plan.
              Further, attention to environmental impacts may occur even after FHWA
              and permit agencies approve the project if the environmental analysis is
              challenged in court.




              1
               The duration of environmental reviews involving environmental impact statements is
              typically determined by measuring the length of time between when FHWA notifies the
              public that detailed environmental review of a project is needed (notice of intent) to when
              FHWA issues its decision that projects have complied with environmental laws (record of
              decision). FHWA reports that for highway projects requiring an environmental impact
              statement and for which FHWA signed a record of decision in 2001, environmental review
              took an average of approximately 5 years from notice of intent to record of decision. The
              flowchart should not be interpreted as suggesting that environmental review of projects (as
              measured from notice of intent to record of decision) in Maryland and North Carolina
              typically takes 7 years or more.




              Page 31                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
                                                                                           Appendix II
                                                                                           Environmental Reviews of Projects in
                                                                                           Maryland and North Carolina Requiring an
                                                                                           Environmental Impact Statement




Figure 3: Activities Involved in Completing Environmental Reviews of Projects in Maryland and North Carolina Requiring
Environmental Impact Statements

                                      Develop an understanding of                                                      Identify alternatives and                                   Gain approval on draft EIS
                                    expected environmental impacts                                                   assess environmental impacts                                and select preferred alternative
                                            Total time: North Carolina 10.5 years; Maryland 7 years (assumes no significant disagreement; not to scale)
                               North
                               Carolina             12 months                  9 months                        12 months                       24 months           9 months                                 7 months

                               Maryland                 5 months                1 month                        15 months                       4 months            3 months                                 9 months
 NEPA activities




                                                                                                                                                                                             Revise draft EIS

                                                                                                                                                                                                       NO
                             Consider                                                                        Identify          Select                                                                   YES Hold public
                              likely                                     Develop           Obtain              and                              Develop         Assess                                      hearing on
                                             Identify     Public      transportation                                        alternatives                                         Prepare       Draft EIS
                          environmental      project                                    environmental       develop                            preliminary   environmental                                   corridor
                                                          notice         purpose                                            for detailed                                         draft EIS     approved
                            impacts in         need                                      information      preliminary                            design         impacts                                     and design
                                                                        and need                                                study
                               STIP                                                                       alternatives                                                                                        issues
 Permit activities




                                                                       Agree on                                              Agree on                                                          Apply for
                                                                      purpose and                                           alternatives                                                      section 404       Public
                                                                         need                                               for detailed                                                       and other        notice
                                                                                 YES                                            study    YES                                                    permits
                                                                       NO                                                    NO

                                                                  Resolve differences                                    Resolve differences


                              FHWA                       Public          FHWA                                FHWA              FHWA                                                              FHWA            FHWA
                             Regional                                    ACHP                                ACHP              ACHP                                                              ACHP            ACHP
 Potential stakeholders




                             planning                                     EPA                                 EPA               EPA                                                               EPA             EPA
                             agencies                                    FEMA                                FEMA              FEMA                                                              FEMA            FEMA
                               State                                       FS                                  FS                FS                                                                FS              FS
                            legislators                                   FWS                                 FWS               FWS                                                               FWS             FWS
                              County                                     NMFS                                NMFS              NMFS                                                              NMFS            NMFS
                           governments                                   NOAA                                NOAA              NOAA                                                              NOAA            NOAA
                            Municipal                                     NPS                                 NPS               NPS                                                               NPS             NPS
                           governments                                   USACE                               USACE             USACE                                                             USACE           USACE
                             Public                                      USCG                                USCG              USCG                                                              USCG            USCG
                                                                          State                               State             State                                                             State           State
                                                                        agencies                            agencies          agencies                                                          agencies        agencies
                                                                          Public                              Public            Public                                                                            Public
                           Environmental activities                                                      Environmental activities                                                Environmental activities
                           • State considers likely environmental impacts, including those               • State identifies a reasonable range of alternatives to the            • State prepares draft EIS, including
                             identified during development of the STIP.                                    project, including not building the project.                            alternatives selected, environmental
                           • State includes project in STIP after receiving public and                   • State obtains and evaluates public and agency feedback                  impacts identified, and mitigation
                             agency feedback.                                                              on alternatives identified.                                             measures planned.
                           • State identifies essential environmental features, including                • State selects alternatives for detailed study.                        • FHWA reviews and approves draft EIS
                             historical and archaeological sites and natural resources.                  • If permits are required, then state requests concurrence                proposal for compliance with NEPA.
                           • FHWA notifies public that detailed environmental review is                    within 30 days from resource agencies on alternatives                 • State submits section 404 and other
                             needed (called notice of intent).                                             selected (for Maryland applies only to section 404 permits).            permit applications (such as for coastal
                           • State obtains public and agency feedback on purpose and need,               • State resolves differences on alternatives selected, if any,            management) to responsible
                             scope of project and environmental features affected.                         with resource agencies.                                                 agencies, where applicable.
                           • If permits are required, then state requests concurrence within             • State develops preliminary design, including measures to              • State holds public hearing and
                             15 days from resource agencies on purpose and need (for                       avoid, minimize or mitigate environmental impacts for all               circulates draft EIS and permit
                             Maryland applies only to section 404 permits).                                alternatives selected.                                                  applications for a minimum of 45 days
                           • State resolves differences on purpose and need, if any, with                • State identifies and assesses impact of alternatives on historical/     for public and agency comment on the
                             resource agencies.                                                            archaeological sites, natural resources and endangered species.         state’s environmental review efforts.
                             Events related to environmental review                ACHP: Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (historic resources)        FEMA: Federal Emergency Management Agency (floodplains)
                                                                                   EIS:  Environmental impact statement                                        FHWA: Federal Highway Administration (financing, technical
                             Events not related to environmental review
                                                                                   EPA: Environmental Protection Agency (air and water quality;                      assistance, ensuring compliance with NEPA)
                             Events related to permit review                             wetlands preservation)                                                FS:   Forest Service (national forest resources)

      Source: GAO's analysis of data from Maryland and North Carolina departments of transportation.




                                                                                           Page 32                                                    GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
                                                                Appendix II
                                                                Environmental Reviews of Projects in
                                                                Maryland and North Carolina Requiring an
                                                                Environmental Impact Statement




       Gain approval on draft EIS                                        Gain final approval for environmental analysis and permits
     and select preferred alternative


                                                            29 months                                                                    24 months

                                                            12 months                                                                    36 months
    ...cont'd




                                                                                                                                                                                            NEPA activities
                                                                  Revise final EIS                 Resolve differences

                                                                             NO                                 NO
                                   Develop                                       YES 30-day                          YES    Complete         Complete                      Resolve any
              Select              additional          Prepare                         public               Issue             right-of-     right-of-way                      lawsuits,
            preferred                                  final          Approve/
                                avoidance and                        issue final     notice of           record of              way       acquisition and               funding, or other
           alternative           minimization           EIS                          final EIS           decision             design      begin final plan                issues/ begin
                                                                        EIS
                                    efforts                                                                                    plans        preparation                    construction
                                                                                                                                                                  YES
                                                                                                                             Submit




                                                                                                                                                                                            Permit activities
             Agree on             Resource                                                              Apply for             final          Final            Permit
             preferred            agencies                                                             section 404         section 404      public           decision
            alternative            review                                                               and other           and other
                          YES                                                                                                               notice
                                 applications                                                            permits             permits
            NO                                                                                                                                               NO

      Resolve differences                                                                                                                            Resolve differences


              FHWA                  FHWA                                FHWA            FHWA              FHWA               FHWA           Public            FHWA
              ACHP                  ACHP                                                ACHP                                 ACHP                             ACHP




                                                                                                                                                                                            Potential stakeholders
               EPA                   EPA                                                 EPA                                  EPA                              EPA
              FEMA                  FEMA                                                FEMA                                 FEMA                             FEMA
                FS                    FS                                                  FS                                   FS                               FS
               FWS                   FWS                                                 FWS                                  FWS                              FWS
              NMFS                  NMFS                                                NMFS                                 NMFS                             NMFS
              NOAA                  NOAA                                                NOAA                                 NOAA                             NOAA
               NPS                   NPS                                                 NPS                                  NPS                              NPS
              USACE                 USACE                                               USACE                                USACE                            USACE
              USCG                  USCG                                                USCG                                 USCG                             USCG
               State                 State                                               State                                State                            State
             agencies              agencies                                            agencies                             agencies                         agencies
               Public                Public                                              Public                                                                Public
Environmental activities (continued)                     Environmental activities
• State obtains and evaluates public and                 • State prepares final EIS, including preferred alternative.
  agency feedback on preferred alternative.              • FHWA reviews state’s final EIS proposal for compliance with NEPA.
• State selects preferred alternative.                   • FHWA circulates final EIS for a minimum of 30 days for
• If permits are required then state requests              public and agency comment.
  concurrence within 30 days on preferred                • FHWA issues its decision on whether the project complies with NEPA
  alternatives (for Maryland applies only to               (called record of decision).
  section 404 permits).                                  • State submits final section 404 and other permit applications (such as
• State resolves differences on preferred                  for coastal management) to responsible agencies, where applicable.
  alternative, if any, with resource agencies.           • Resource agencies decide whether to issue permits.
• State addresses compensatory mitigation                • State resolves differences on final environmental review efforts,
  options.                                                 if any, with resource agencies.
• Responsible federal agencies review
  permit applications.


FWS: Fish and Wildlife Service (endangered species)             NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration        STIP:  State Transportation Improvement Program
NEPA: National Environmental Policy Act of 1969                       (coastal resources)                                    USACE: Army Corps of Engineers (water resources,
NMFS: National Marine Fisheries Service (fish and               NPS: National Park Service (archaeological, cultural and            including wetlands)
      spawning grounds)                                               historic resources in national parks)                  USCG: Coast Guard (bridge and navigation responsibilities)




                                                                Page 33                                               GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Appendix II
Environmental Reviews of Projects in
Maryland and North Carolina Requiring an
Environmental Impact Statement




Note: Activities not related to environmental review were compressed and can take a significant
amount of time. According to FHWA, it typically takes between 9 to 19 years to plan, gain approval for,
and construct a new, major federally funded highway project that has significant environmental
impacts.




Page 34                                      GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
Appendix III

Aspects Identified by Stakeholders as Unduly
Adding Time to Environmental Reviews                                                                                                      Appen
                                                                                                                                              Ix
                                                                                                                                               di




                                                    Stakeholders with different primary interests or responsibilities typically
                                                    had divergent views about aspects that unduly add time to environmental
                                                    reviews. (See table 5.)



Table 5: Frequency of Occurrences of Aspects That Unduly Add Time to the Environmental Review, as Identified by
Stakeholders, by Rating and Type of Stakeholder

                                            Number of stakeholders primarily             Number of stakeholders primarily
                                       affiliated with environmental and historic          affiliated with transportation
                                          preservation issuesa indicating that          improvement issuesb indicating that
                                                      aspect occurs:                               aspect occurs:
                                                                  Less                                           Less
                                                              than half    Did not                           than half    Did not
                                            More      About the time         know           More     About the time         know
Aspects identified by                   than half    half the       or        /not      than half   half the       or        /not
stakeholders                             the time       time     never    relevant       the time      time     never    relevant     Total
State departments of
transportation and federal
resource agencies lack sufficient
staff to handle their
responsibilities in a timely
manner.                                         5             1       3             1         11          3         2          0        26
The section 4(f) requirement that
the state departments of
transportation prove there is no
prudent and feasible alternative
is burdensome to a state
department of transportation                    3             0       6             1          9          1         6          0        26
State departments of
transportation go to great
lengths to avoid a project on
public lands because they
regard section 4(f) as too difficult
to accommodate.                                 4             0       4             2          8          2         6          0        26
National Environmental Policy
Act of 1969 and federal and
state environmental and historic
preservation laws are not
administered concurrently.                      4             1       5             0          7          3         5          1        26
State departments of
transportation lack the ability to
absorb budget increases from
the Transportation Equity Act for
the 21st Century.                               3             0       2             5          8          3         4          1        26
FHWA has changed its role from
being a “leader” to being a
“facilitator.”                                  2             1       4             3          8          2         6          0        26




                                                    Page 35                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
                                                  Appendix III
                                                  Aspects Identified by Stakeholders as Unduly
                                                  Adding Time to Environmental Reviews




(Continued From Previous Page)
                                          Number of stakeholders primarily             Number of stakeholders primarily
                                     affiliated with environmental and historic          affiliated with transportation
                                        preservation issuesa indicating that          improvement issuesb indicating that
                                                    aspect occurs:                               aspect occurs:
                                                                Less                                           Less
                                                            than half      Did not                         than half    Did not
                                          More      About the time           know         More     About the time         know
Aspects identified by                 than half    half the       or          /not    than half   half the       or        /not
stakeholders                           the time       time     never      relevant     the time      time     never    relevant     Total
Section 4(f) standards do not
associate requirements with the
level of impact a project has on a
historic resource.                            2             1        5            2          8          3         5          0        26
State departments of
transportation do not include
important stakeholders early in
the environmental review.                     7             1        3            0          3          2        11          0        27
State historical preservation
offices are not able to complete
surveys of state historic
resources and/or maintain
database of historic properties
due to resource constraints.                  4             2        2            3          6          1         6          3        27
State departments of
transportation do not consider
environmental and historic
impacts early enough in the
environmental review.                         7             0        3            0          2          1        13          0        26
Section 404 causes delays since
it values water resources over
other resources leading state
departments of transportation to
complete time-consuming
analysis.                                     0             3        3            4          9          3         4          0        26
State departments of
transportation and federal
resource agencies are unable to
maintain institutional expertise
due to staff turnover.                        3             1        4            2          6          4         5          1        26
State departments of
transportation underestimate
project costs and the review
stalls while state seeks funding.             5             0        2            3          3          2        11          0        26
State departments of
transportation and resource
agencies do not provide agency
comments in a timely manner.                  1             2        6            1          7          1         8          0        26




                                                  Page 36                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
                                                   Appendix III
                                                   Aspects Identified by Stakeholders as Unduly
                                                   Adding Time to Environmental Reviews




(Continued From Previous Page)
                                           Number of stakeholders primarily             Number of stakeholders primarily
                                      affiliated with environmental and historic          affiliated with transportation
                                         preservation issuesa indicating that          improvement issuesb indicating that
                                                     aspect occurs:                               aspect occurs:
                                                                 Less                                           Less
                                                             than half      Did not                         than half    Did not
                                           More      About the time           know         More     About the time         know
Aspects identified by                  than half    half the       or          /not    than half   half the       or        /not
stakeholders                            the time       time     never      relevant     the time      time     never    relevant     Total
Federal environmental
protection laws do not
accommodate local
transportation needs so
additional coordination required
to consider local needs.                       1             1        6            1          6          1         8          1        25
A resource agency’s
antitransportation agenda leads
it to use permitting authority as a
means of delaying transportation
projects.                                      0             1        8            0          7          5         4          0        25
Advocacy groups use
environmental laws as means to
delay or stop projects even when
their disagreement is not over
environmental issues.                          1             1        7            0          6          3         6          1        25
FHWA does not delegate
approval authority to state
departments of transportation
for projects involving lower levels
of environmental review.                       2             0        3            5          5          1         8          2        26
Resource agencies wait until
permitting requires their action
to express concerns and
opinions about a proposed
project.                                       2             0        8            0          5          4         6          1        26
State departments of
transportation and resource
agencies interpret laws and
regulations differently.                       2             2        5            0          4          4         7          1        25
State laws protecting certain
resources conflict with section
404 regulations.                               2             1        5            2          4          1        10          0        25
State departments of
transportation and resource
agency leaders follow personal
agendas to the point where each
decision must be elevated to
headquarters for resolution.                   0             0        8            1          6          2         7          1        25




                                                   Page 37                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
                                                 Appendix III
                                                 Aspects Identified by Stakeholders as Unduly
                                                 Adding Time to Environmental Reviews




(Continued From Previous Page)
                                         Number of stakeholders primarily             Number of stakeholders primarily
                                    affiliated with environmental and historic          affiliated with transportation
                                       preservation issuesa indicating that          improvement issuesb indicating that
                                                   aspect occurs:                               aspect occurs:
                                                               Less                                           Less
                                                           than half      Did not                         than half    Did not
                                         More      About the time           know         More     About the time         know
Aspects identified by                than half    half the       or          /not    than half   half the       or        /not
stakeholders                          the time       time     never      relevant     the time      time     never    relevant     Total
Issues are revisited because
state departments of
transportation and resource
agencies back out of
agreements or do not follow
through on promises made.                    0             1        7            1          6          3         7          0        25
Groups opposing a
transportation project do not use
public hearings to express
concerns with a project but wait
until after the environmental
review is completed to file
lawsuits.                                    1             2        5            1          5          1        10          0        25
Section 404 evaluates created
and natural wetlands similarly so
state departments of
transportation must complete
similar environmental reviews,
regardless of environmental
value.                                       0             1        5            4          6          1         9          0        26
State departments of
transportation may have to wait
up to a year or more for the
appropriate season to
demonstrate existence of
species.                                     2             0        3            4          3          6         6          1        25
The permit application process
is sequential.                               1             2        3            4          4          0        10          2        26
Inadequate staff at FHWA
division offices and state
departments of transportation
leads to inadequate
environmental analysis.                      3             0        3            4          2          3        10          1        26
State departments of
transportation and resource
agencies lack way to resolve
disagreements about traffic
models.                                      3             2        5            1          2          3        10          1        27




                                                 Page 38                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
                                                   Appendix III
                                                   Aspects Identified by Stakeholders as Unduly
                                                   Adding Time to Environmental Reviews




(Continued From Previous Page)
                                           Number of stakeholders primarily             Number of stakeholders primarily
                                      affiliated with environmental and historic          affiliated with transportation
                                         preservation issuesa indicating that          improvement issuesb indicating that
                                                     aspect occurs:                               aspect occurs:
                                                                 Less                                           Less
                                                             than half      Did not                         than half    Did not
                                           More      About the time           know         More     About the time         know
Aspects identified by                  than half    half the       or          /not    than half   half the       or        /not
stakeholders                            the time       time     never      relevant     the time      time     never    relevant     Total
State departments of
transportation and resource
agencies do not work to resolve
technical and analytical
differences.                                   0             3        8            0          5          3         7          1        27
The National Environmental
Policy Act of 1969 process does
not readily accommodate
unexpected issues during
existing reviews.                              1             1        5            2          3          1        12          0        25
Resource agency centralization
of permit approval adds another
level of review.                               1             0        3            6          3          2         9          2        26
Environmental reviews are held-
up because changes in state or
local political leadership alters
project’s priority and funding.                3             0        5            2          1          2        13          0        26
State departments of
transportation fail to consult with
Native American tribes during
the environmental process.                     3             1        3            3          0          1        12          3        26
FHWA division offices do not
adequately verify state
departments of transportation
environmental categorization or
oversee state review process.                  3             2        4            1          0          1        15          0        26
Resource agencies and state
departments of transportation
are unable to communicate due
to a lack of common
understanding of technical
terms.                                         2             2        4            2          1          1        13          1        26
Federal resource agencies’ lack
of technical resources hampers
their analytic performance.                    1             4        3            2          2          5         8          1        26




                                                   Page 39                                 GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
                                                              Appendix III
                                                              Aspects Identified by Stakeholders as Unduly
                                                              Adding Time to Environmental Reviews




(Continued From Previous Page)
                                                    Number of stakeholders primarily                  Number of stakeholders primarily
                                               affiliated with environmental and historic               affiliated with transportation
                                                  preservation issuesa indicating that               improvement issuesb indicating that
                                                              aspect occurs:                                    aspect occurs:
                                                                               Less                                            Less
                                                                           than half     Did not                           than half        Did not
                                                      More         About the time          know         More       About the time             know
Aspects identified by                             than half       half the       or         /not    than half     half the       or            /not
stakeholders                                       the time          time     never     relevant     the time        time     never        relevant           Total
State departments of
transportation find it difficult to
resolve conflicting criteria
inherent in projects covered
under section 4(f) and section
106.                                                      1             0          9            1            2           4          10             0            27
State departments of
transportation misclassify level
of environmental review.                                  2             1          5            2            0           1          15             0            26
FHWA will require the state
departments of transportation to
conduct additional analysis of
project alternatives that a state
department of transportation
has already discarded.                                    0             1          5            4            2           3          10             1            26
Resource agency field offices do
not consult with headquarters to
resolve disputes.                                         0             0          3            7            2           2            9            3            26
Metropolitan planning
organizations and state
departments of transportation
struggle over leadership.                                 0             0          3            7            1           0          13             1            25
State departments of
transportation don’t prioritize
projects by size.                                         0             0          2            8            1           1          11             3            26
Source: GAO analysis of Responses from 28 stakeholders.
                                                              a
                                                               Environmental stakeholders include federal resource agencies, environmental advocacy
                                                              organizations, and state historic preservation agencies.
                                                              b
                                                               Transportation improvement stakeholders include transportation advocacy organizations, state
                                                              departments of transportation, and FHWA division offices.




(542014)                                                      Page 40                                    GAO-03-534 Highway Project Environmental Review
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                         Washington, D.C. 20548
                         To order by Phone:     Voice: (202) 512-6000
                                                TDD: (202) 512-2537
                                                Fax: (202) 512-6061


To Report Fraud,         Contact:
                         Web site: www.gao.gov/fraudnet/fraudnet.htm
Waste, and Abuse in      E-mail: fraudnet@gao.gov
Federal Programs         Automated answering system: (800) 424-5454 or (202) 512-7470



Public Affairs           Jeff Nelligan, Managing Director, NelliganJ@gao.gov (202) 512-4800
                         U.S. General Accounting Office, 441 G Street NW, Room 7149
                         Washington, D.C. 20548
United States                  Presorted Standard
General Accounting Office      Postage & Fees Paid
Washington, D.C. 20548-0001           GAO
                                 Permit No. GI00
Official Business
Penalty for Private Use $300
Address Service Requested