Environmental Protection: Federal Planning Requirements for Transportation and Air Quality Protection Could Potentially Be More Efficient and Better Linked

GAO-03-581 Published: Apr 28, 2003. Publicly Released: May 08, 2003.
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Highlights

To protect the public from harmful emissions, transportation planners in areas with poor air must show that their plans will not make it worse. Every time they update their transportation improvement program (TIP) and their 20-year plan--every 2 and 3 years respectively--federal laws and regulations require that they ensure the emissions from their plans will not exceed the mobile source emissions budget. This is known as "demonstrating conformity." Areas that fail to do so generally cannot spend federal funds on new projects until they resolve the problem. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works asked GAO to determine (1) how many areas have failed, why, and what corrective actions they took, and (2) what issues transportation planners had with the conformity process and what solutions are possible.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation In order to make the conformity process a more effective and better link between air quality and transportation planning, the Department of Transportation (DOT), in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), should consider extending the current 3-year time frame between required updates to the long-range transportation plan and submitting a legislative proposal to change the conformity provisions of the Clean Air Act so that they similarly extend the time frames between required conformity demonstrations for the plan.
Closed – Implemented
On August 10, 2005, President Bush signed into law the final version of the transportation reauthorization bill, "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users" or "SAFETEA-LU." Included in this new law is a provision extending the time frame in between required updates of the long-range transportation plans from 3 years to 4 years. Since conformity provisions are part of the Clean Air Act, the Act was amended as needed to allow for this change.
Environmental Protection Agency In order to make the conformity process a more effective and better link between air quality and transportation planning, the Department of Transportation (DOT), in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), should consider extending the current 3-year time frame between required updates to the long-range transportation plan and submitting a legislative proposal to change the conformity provisions of the Clean Air Act so that they similarly extend the time frames between required conformity demonstrations for the plan.
Closed – Implemented
On August 10, 2005, President Bush signed into law the final version of the transportation reauthorization bill, "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users" or "SAFETEA-LU." Included in this new law is a provision extending the time frame in between required updates of the long-range transportation plans from 3 years to 4 years. Since conformity provisions are part of the Clean Air Act, the Act was amended as needed to allow for this change.
Environmental Protection Agency In order to make the conformity process a more effective and better link between air quality and transportation planning, EPA, in coordination with DOT, comprehensively assess the advantages and disadvantages of establishing a Clean Air Act requirement to periodically update state air quality plans so that they incorporate the same, most current planning data and emissions models used in updates to the TIP and long-term transportation plans.
Closed – Implemented
On August 10, 2005, President Bush signed into law the final version of the transportation reauthorization bill, "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users" or "SAFETEA-LU." Included in this new law is a provision shortening the horizon over which conformity needs to be demonstrated for the long-range transportation plan. Previous to this change, conformity needed to be demonstrated over the entire 20 year horizon of the long-range transportation plan. The current law has allowed this horizon to be shorten, effectively putting it on a timeline more similar to that of the air quality plan with which it is trying to conform. While this is not the same as requiring updates of the state air quality plan, it has a similar outcome of more closely linking the transportation planning and air quality planning processes. Since conformity provisions are part of the Clean Air Act, the Act was amended as needed to allow for this change.
Department of Transportation In order to make the conformity process a more effective and better link between air quality and transportation planning, EPA, in coordination with DOT, comprehensively assess the advantages and disadvantages of establishing a Clean Air Act requirement to periodically update state air quality plans so that they incorporate the same, most current planning data and emissions models used in updates to the TIP and long-term transportation plans.
Closed – Implemented
On August 10, 2005, President Bush signed into law the final version of the transportation reauthorization bill, "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users" or "SAFETEA-LU." Included in this new law is a provision shortening the horizon over which conformity needs to be demonstrated for the long-range transportation plan. Previous to this change, conformity needed to be demonstrated over the entire 20 year horizon of the long-range transportation plan. The current law has allowed this horizon to be shorten, effectively putting it on a timeline more similar to that of the air quality plan with which it is trying to conform. While this is not the same as requiring updates of the state air quality plan, it has a similar outcome of more closely linking the transportation planning and air quality planning processes. Since conformity provisions are part of the Clean Air Act, the Act was amended as needed to allow for this change.

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