Acquiring Land for Federal-Aid Projects

RCED-88-112: Published: Mar 30, 1988. Publicly Released: May 3, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) requirements that govern land acquisitions for federal-aid highway projects, including procedures for acquiring rights-of-way before environmental requirements are met; (2) environmental and conservation groups' and state officials' views on possible legislation allowing right-of-way acquisitions before environmental requirements are met; and (3) federal agencies' approaches to land acquisitions.

GAO found that: (1) the National Environmental Policy Act requires an assessment of the environmental impact of certain federal actions, such as major highway projects; (2) the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) will not authorize federal acquisition costs until federal requirements are met, and will then reimburse states for acquisition costs only if the acquired property is used in the final highway project; (3) in extraordinary cases, FHwA may authorize federal funding before meeting environmental requirements to alleviate a hardship to the property owner or prevent imminent development of the land; (4) environmental and conservation groups oppose legislation that would broaden the criteria for advanced land acquisitions, since government property ownership could influence decisions on whether and where to build a highway; (5) some state officials stated that owning the land would not influence their project decisions, while others stated that owning the land could influence their decisions; (6) most agencies do not normally reimburse grantees for right-of-way costs before the land meets environmental requirements or the agency authorizes the acquisition; (7) some agencies allow advanced acquisitions in cases similar to FHwA, while one agency retroactively reimburses grantees for acquisitions before environmental requirements are met; and (8) environmental and conservation groups are opposed to any legislation that would allow FHwA retroactive reimbursement authority, since it might delay FHwA involvement in federal aid projects.

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