Better Data Needed to Assess Changes in the Duration of Environmental Reviews

Federally funded highway and transit projects must be analyzed for their potential
environmental effects, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, and may
be subject to other environmental protection laws, including the Clean Water Act and the
Endangered Species Act. These laws may require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps)
to issue permit decisions and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine
Fisheries Service (NMFS) to conduct consultations before a project can proceed. These
three agencies are referred to as “resource agencies” for this report. The three most recent
transportation reauthorization acts include provisions that are intended to streamline various
aspects of the environmental review process; 18 of these provisions could potentially affect
time frames for the environmental permitting and consulting processes for highway and transit

While officials GAO interviewed at resource agencies and state departments of transportation
(state DOT) noted that some actions called for by the 18 statutory provisions have helped
streamline the consultation and permitting processes for highway and transit projects, GAO
found that a lack of reliable agency data regarding permitting and consulting time frames
hinders a quantitative analysis of the provisions’ impact.

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