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Eased Environmental Rules for Transit Projects Sought

May 15, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration on Wednesday proposed easing environmental reviews for transportation projects and more than doubling federal money for safety programs.

The proposals are part of a $247-billion, six-year spending plan for highways and public transit to succeed the current program that expires in October. It is 13% larger than the previous six-year plan, but far less than what many lawmakers say is needed to reduce congestion on highways.

Environmental groups said the plan would make state transportation departments less accountable for cleaning up the air, and would weaken protections for parks, wildlife refuges and historic buildings.

"It steamrolls existing environmental protections to help the highway lobby," said Alys Campaigne, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Environmentalists were disappointed with a 2% increase in transit funds, to about $46 billion for six years.

The goal is to better coordinate reviews to more quickly determine whether projects are environmentally sound, not roll back environmental protections, said Transportation Department spokesman Leonardo Alcivar.

The department proposal requires congressional approval.

Money for states to make roads safer would increase to about $8.66 billion over six years from about $3.97 billion. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta's goal is to reduce the highway fatality rate by one-third in five years.

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