Emergency Relief:

Status of the Replacement of the Cypress Viaduct

RCED-96-136: Published: May 6, 1996. Publicly Released: Jun 5, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the status of the replacement of the Cypress Viaduct in Oakland, California, focusing on the: (1) expected completion date and reasons for construction delays; (2) estimated cost of the project and reasons for any cost growth; and (3) guidance governing the Federal Highway Administration's (FHwA) use of emergency relief funds.

GAO found that: (1) the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has completed one-third of the Cypress Viaduct's construction and expects to have the project completed by 1998; (2) the replacement of the Cypress Viaduct has been hampered by public opposition, environmental concerns, and railroad negotiations; (3) Caltrans estimates total project costs will be $1.13 billion, 90 percent of which is federally financed through an emergency relief program; (4) construction costs are higher than originally planned because Caltrans underestimated the costs of constructing the freeway, managing traffic, and relocating rail yards; (5) Caltrans risks incurring additional costs because the project is in the early construction stages; (6) FHwA approved funding for the Cypress Viaduct without determining whether it was economically justified to prevent recurring damage and without placing limits on the use of emergency relief funds; (7) FHwA based its funding decision on the emergency relief manual and whether improvements could be performed using emergency relief funds or traditional transportation funds; and (8) the alternative that FHwA approved resulted in more extensive construction, higher costs, and greater risk of delay than would have occurred in rebuilding the structure prior to the earthquake.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To ensure that the emergency relief guidance is as useful as possible to those involved in the emergency relief process, FHwA took two actions. First, FHwA's Executive Director issued internal guidance that clarified eligibility requirements. Second, it incorporated the new guidance into a revised emergency relief manual, which made the manual consistent with emergency relief regulations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, Federal Highway Administration, to modify the emergency relief guidance to make the agency's emergency relief regulations and manual consistent.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FHwA has developed guidance which clarified program eligibility requirements, particularly for situations when an environmental review recommends betterments to existing facilities. The guidance provides clarification for FHwA staff indicating when limits should be placed on emergency relief funding, and when full funding is appropriate. FHwA also incorporated this guidance into a revised emergency relief manual.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, Federal Highway Administration, to modify the emergency relief guidance to clearly define what costs can be funded through the emergency relief program, particularly when an environmental review recommends improvements or changes to the features of a facility from its predisaster condition in a manner that adds costs and risks to the project.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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