Highway Infrastructure: Perceptions of Stakeholders on Approaches to Reduce Highway Project Completion Time

GAO-03-398 Published: Apr 09, 2003. Publicly Released: May 12, 2003.
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Constructing, improving, and repairing roads is fundamental to meeting the nation's mobility needs. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) supplies most of the money (about $20 billion in fiscal year 2003), and state departments of transportation are primarily responsible for completing projects. Many federal and state agencies (called resource agencies) help ensure that environmental and other concerns are considered. These and other organizations have recognized that the time it takes to complete complex federally funded highway projects is too long--in some cases nearly 20 years. GAO was asked to report the views of knowledgeable officials on the most promising approaches for reducing completion time for federally funded highway projects. GAO obtained the views of 33 officials from federal, state, and private organizations with interests in federally funded roads.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation In order to reduce Highway project completion time, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, Federal Highway Administration, to consider the benefits of at least each of the 13 most promising approaches discussed in this report relative to the costs and feasibility of implementing them and take the actions needed to foster more widespread adoption of those approaches that appear to be the most cost effective.
Closed – Implemented
According to FHWA's June 2003 report to Congress on FHWA's efforts to streamline environmental activities, it appears that the agency has considered the benefits of 10 of the 13 most promising approaches in GAO's recommendation and that the agency is fostering a more widespread use of these approaches. The three outstanding approaches included (1) Preparing preliminary environmental assessment reports, (2) holding public information meetings early, and (3) employing wetlands banking. GAO contacted FHWA to determine to what extent these three recommendations had been/would be implemented. According to the agency, all three recommendations were currently in practice and/or being promoted. For example, FHWA said that with streamlining funds, it supports preliminary assessment work in Oregon, Texas, and Indiana. FHWA also encourages the efforts of resource agencies (i.e., the liaison requirement under TEA-21) to provide state DOTs with data early to scope and plan projects. Regarding holding public information meetings early, the agency said this is accomplished, in part, when FHWA's state division office administrators and their staff encourage state DOTs to use context sensitive design (CSD). One of the criteria needed to implement CSD is early public involvement. Regarding employing wetlands banking, FHWA said it has promoted this activity for a number of years. FHWA oversees state DOT efforts to implement these programs and provides funding to support states' efforts. Currently about 12 states employ wetland banking programs--including AL, FL, IN, MN, NC, TX, and VA. Also in 2003, FHWA issued guidance under the President's National Mitigation Action Plan--an interagency action plan for wetlands mitigation.

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