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Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Lake Tahoe Basin Restoration Forum
August 5, 2004, Ponderosa Ranch, Incline Village, Nevada


I can't think of a more beautiful spot to meet than here in the Lake Tahoe basin.

And I can't think of a more important environmental mission than that of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). TRPA seeks "to preserve, restore and enhance the unique natural and human environment of the Lake Tahoe Region."

Leaders in transportation and environment organizations struggle with the seeming contradiction. How can we preserve the environment and maintain the mobility so crucial to a healthy economy? How can we be good stewards of America's splendor?

President Bush understands that moving the American economy and protecting our environment can and must go hand-in-hand. The President, DOT Secretary Mineta, and all of FHWA are committed to making environmental protection integral to improvements we're making in our nation's highway system.

Since the founding of the Lake Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in 1970, concerned groups have taken action to preserve the unique beauty of this area for everybody to enjoy for generations to come.

  • Eastshore Drive along Lake Tahoe is a National Scenic Byway. The Nevada Division of State Parks and Nevada DOT received special recognition for the Memorial Point Overlook, as part of "Best Practices for Byways" sponsored by AASHTO, FHWA, and the America's Byways Resource Center.

  • Another good example is NDOT's erosion control program that is a big step towards reducing the amount of sediment reaching the lake, and thereby preserving the lake's clarity and beauty.

  • A little further afield, I'm particularly proud to note Nevada DOT's Washoe Lake Wetland Mitigation Area just north of Carson City. Federal Highways has named it as one of our national models of environmental protection and conservation. It is one of only 15 such projects nationwide.

  • In 1997, President Clinton signed an executive order creating a federal partnership at Lake Tahoe to better coordinate agency activities. This federal partnership is committed to environmental improvements at Lake Tahoe.


Federal Highways is proud to be part of the public/private team working to preserve Tahoe for our children, our children's children and generations far into the future.

In the past, progress at the Federal Highway Administration was measured by miles of road constructed. We are not, as the Oldsmobile commercial used to say, your father's transportation organization.

Today, we have established specific environmental stewardship goals as part of our programs, including net gains in wetlands, the quality of environmental reviews, and improvements in air and water quality. We want our projects to lie lightly on the land -- valuing and protecting the surrounding environment. My charge to our staff is that our roads should complement and benefit the communities we serve -- that these projects should be done with communities, not in spite of them.

Success is leaving project sites the same or better than we found them.

Our programs include the Federal Aid Highway Program, that provides funding to state and local governments for projects on the National Highway System, and the Federal Lands Programs that provide access in our National Parks, National Forests, and other Federal public lands. Important components of these programs are the Transportation Enhancement program and Scenic Byways.


As you may know, there is an intense debate in Washington, and across the country, about legislation to reauthorize the Federal highway, transit, and highway safety programs. Most of the debate centers on funding levels and how the money will be divided among many deserving programs.

Those are important concerns, but today, I welcome the chance to focus on the kinds of programs and activities that you care about --programs that we at FHWA are very proud of.

These are programs that we seek to continue through reauthorization -- programs like Transportation Enhancements and Scenic Byways. President Bush, and First Lady Laura Bush are strong proponents of these programs.

They include other activities, such as:

  • promoting sound roadside vegetation management;
  • combating invasive species;
  • protecting wetlands, habitat and wildlife;
  • encouraging "context sensitive design" of roads and bridges; and
  • historic preservation.


I hope that many of you have some first-hand experience with the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program. Through the TE program, FHWA has funded over $6.4 billion in landscaping, scenic beautification, historic preservation, bicycle/pedestrian improvements and similar enhancements, since 1991.

Over 18,000 projects have been funded, and almost 20 percent of the funds have gone to landscaping and scenic beautification.

For example, Springville, Utah has an innovative plan to upgrade its Main Street with a low-maintenance landscaped median, traditional street lights, brick paved crosswalks, and bicycle lanes that will dovetail into a trail along a creek.


There are more than 10 million acres of land alongside the nation's roads -- an enormous area that is present in every state and community in this country.

FHWA is committed to working with states and local governments to support ecologically sound management of this land.

We owe much to Lady Bird Johnson for making us aware of the potential of our roadsides, not only as a source of beauty, but also as an important ecological resource.

Carrying on the former First Lady's mission, we sponsor research, training, and awards programs to ensure that states and local governments manage their roadsides wisely. It is important for communities to:

  • protect water quality,
  • improve erosion control,
  • increase wildlife habitat,
  • reduce moving and spraying,
  • enhance natural beauty,
  • control noxious weeds, and
  • protect natural heritage.


Did you know that highway programs around the country are achieving a net gain in wetlands?

The FHWA Strategic Plan commits the agency to: "Minimize the adverse impacts of Federal?aid highway projects on wetlands, and on a program-wide basis, replace 1.5 acres of wetlands for every acre affected where impacts are unavoidable."

We are exceeding this goal, with a ratio of better than 2 to 1. That's right -- we are contributing to a net gain in wetlands.

And we are close partners with EPA and the Corps of Engineers in wetlands research, to learn better ways to identify, protect, and restore wetlands.


As I said, the American people want both a high quality transportation system and a healthy environment. This path requires planning and building good projects in a timely manner.

We're learning valuable lessons in how to improve the environmental approval process, especially the importance of -- --

  • Appropriate staffing,

  • Early coordination among agencies and project sponsors,

  • Defining responsibilities and,

  • Agreeing on schedules.

To solidify our progress, legislative change is needed.

President Bush's SAFETEA legislation would clarify the role of states and project sponsors in expedited review procedures. It would delegate authority for certain approvals to states. And it would impose a 180-day statute of limitations for filing legal challenges to Federal environmental approvals of highway and transit projects.


There are other aspects of the Administration bill that have great interest to Nevada and other Western states --

  • A more coordinated transportation planning process that will benefit the Lake Tahoe Region.

  • A 40 percent funding increase for the Federal Lands Highway program to a total of $5.8 billion over six years. Within the $5.8 billion, $1.9 billion is for Park Roads.

  • Creation of a new Recreation Roads category in the Federal Lands program to provide dedicated funds ($300 million over six years) for the maintenance or improvement of existing recreation roads.

  • Continuation of Recreational Trails ($360 million over six years) and Scenic Byways ($189 million over six years).

President Bush and Transportation Secretary Mineta both believe that states should have the flexibility they need to make decisions that suit their specific traffic conditions.

SAFETEA would allow states like Nevada to allocate funds to alleviate the congestion here in Lake Tahoe.


As I said at the start, Lake Tahoe is world famous for its beauty.

It is the responsibility of the regional planning commission and of every agency and concerned individual to maintain that beauty. Many important steps have already been taken. But, as the song says, "We've only just begun."

Working together, we can preserve and improve this very special and beautiful place.


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