Idaho congressman asks for investigation of road project setbacks

Request follows meeting on streamlining federal funding process

News The Idaho Statesman June 20, 2007
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U.S. Rep. Bill Sali (R-Idaho) has asked congressional auditors to investigate whether federal requirements are holding back crucial Idaho road projects, according to a report in the Idaho Statesman.

Too much money is going to required federal studies and not enough to actual road-building and maintenance, like on busy I-84, Sali said Tuesday, according to the paper.

"Many of Idaho's highways are dangerous, inadequate or plain worn out, and yet the federal government's mandates slow down the state's ability to fix those problems," Sali said in a statement. "The longer it takes [to] repair or widen a highway, the more money it costs to build."

The request follows a meeting Sali called with local and state road officials in Idaho in May on streamlining the federal funding process, the Statesman reported.

Funds for much of Idaho's road construction and maintenance comes from a federal pool, the paper reported, which means getting approval from agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Officials at the meeting told Sali that important road projects are held up for months while awaiting approval from the various agencies, and there is no recourse when federal agencies are behind schedule, according to the Statesman.

Idaho Transportation Department Director Pam Lowe said the department supports Sali's request.

"Many of the regulations that drive the federal environmental process are extremely bureaucratic," Lowe said through a spokesman. "We could save time, money and protect the environment by streamlining the process."

Sali and U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) asked in a June 14 letter for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look into the issue, the paper reported.

Kate Siggerud, who directs work on highways and other infrastructure for the GAO, said the office is likely to take up the study and will decide next week, according to the Statesman. A study would take about a year, she said, and would likely include recommendations to federal agencies and Congress, the paper reported.

Sali said he hoped auditors would be able to identify barriers so they can be removed. Sali and Davis asked the auditors to: identify all laws, regulations and requirements related to accepting federal dollars; figure out how much federal requirements overlap state requirements; and calculate how much these requirements add to the cost of state highway projects, the Statesman reported.

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