fects. The decision making has been primarily local, but the ecological effects can extend beyond the local area. Federal transportation planning law relies heavily on local jurisdictions, thus creating few opportunities for evaluation of ecosystem concerns, especially at broader scales.
The transportation planning system, carried out by MPOs, offers an opportunity for consideration of ecological concerns at an early stage in road planning. Incorporating ecological concerns at the planning stage would assist in providing protection for ecological functions and in avoiding controversies at the project development and implementation stage. Only NEPA considers effects to the environment at other scales, including indirect or cumulative effects. However, NEPA does not apply to the MPO planning processes.
Many entities interested in ecological concerns, including resource agencies, nongovernmental entities, and the public, do not understand the relationship of federal environmental laws to the transportation planning process or the project development and implementation process. This lack of understanding can result in controversies over specific projects after years of planning by transportation entities.
Although a wide range of laws, regulations, and policies require some degree of consideration of ecological effects of road construction, the existing legal structure leaves significant gaps. Road projects need only permits to conduct activities that might have an impact on certain types of ecological features—wetlands, endangered species, or migratory birds—and generally at a small scale. Moreover, the permit programs usually consider only direct effects of a road (construction or use) on the protected resource.
The data necessary to evaluate efficacy of policy and law are not easily accessible or amenable to synthesis. The data are contained in project-specific EISs, EAs, records of decision, or permits (for example, wetlands permits) that are not easily available for research.
With few exceptions (for example, wetlands and endangered species), existing law authorizes ecological concerns to be balanced with goals of transportation mobility, capacity, and other social needs in determining whether and how to undertake transportation projects. This balance can create controversy between parties supporting a project and those opposing it over issues of ecological protection.