Transportation Planning: State and Metropolitan Planning Agencies Report Using Varied Methods to Consider Ecosystem Conservation

GAO-04-536 Published: May 17, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 10, 2004.
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The nation's roads, highways, and bridges are essential to mobility but can have negative effects on plants, animals, and the habitats that support them (collectively called ecosystems in this report). Federally funded transportation projects progress through three planning phases: long range (20 or more years), short range (3 to 5 years), and early project development, (collectively defined as planning in this report) before undergoing environmental review (which includes assessing air and water quality, ecosystems, and other impacts) required under the National Environmental Policy Act. Federal law requires planners to consider protecting and enhancing the environment in the first two phases, but does not specify how and does not require such consideration in the third phase. GAO reported on (1) the extent to which transportation planners consider ecosystem conservation in planning, (2) the effects of such consideration, and (3) the factors that encourage or discourage such consideration. GAO contacted 36 planning agencies (24 states and 12 of approximately 380 metropolitan planning organizations), as well as officials in 22 resource agencies that maintain ecological data and administer environmental laws. The Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had no comments on a draft of this report. The Department of the Interior generally agreed with the contents of our draft report.

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