Need To Periodically Reassess Mass Transit Construction Projects

RCED-83-82: Published: Dec 22, 1982. Publicly Released: Dec 22, 1982.

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GAO reviewed Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) policies for project administration because UMTA has made large expenditures over the past decade to finance construction of capital projects. The review focused on a high-speed rail project in Philadelphia and a project extending the New York City subway system.

Although UMTA has taken significant steps to ensure that only meritorious projects are approved for UMTA capital assistance, GAO found that UMTA does not require project reassessment, even if changed conditions indicate that the project will not meet its original objectives. GAO found that a postapproval assessment of the Philadelphia Airport High Speed Line and the Queens Trunk Line might have prevented constructing projects whose success is questionable. Lack of air passenger growth, construction delays, and increases in project costs on the Philadelphia line caused the city to seek alternatives to make the line self-sustaining, yet UMTA continued to fund the original project. GAO found that UMTA did not require the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) to explore alternatives to project segments or modifications in the scope of the Queens project, although the city's financial crisis caused NYCTA to use capital grant funds to finance operating deficits and to defer construction of a required bypass. GAO concluded that the lack of an UMTA policy requiring reassessment has resulted in construction of some projects under conditions that differ significantly from forecasts.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO is closing this recommendation because it has been open for over a year and GAO is still unsure whether or not UMTA will implement it. In addition, past GAO success in terms of UMTA implementing this type of recommendation is poor. However, GAO will examine UMTA action in regard to this recommendation and similar ones as part of an overall capping report.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, UMTA, should establish policy requiring reassessment of major capital projects at the completion of specified project milestones.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Urban Mass Transportation Administration


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