President George W. Bush has issued an executive order to streamline the environmental review process for building new roads in an effort to jump-start lagging highway projects across the United States.

The order calls for a Cabinet-level task force reporting to the President through the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality to ensure that environmentally sound projects are not held up unnecessarily by inefficient review procedures.

"Too many transportation projects become mired for too long in the complex web of clearances required by federal and state law," said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta in an open letter to state governors, Congressional committee leaders, and others. "This initiative is intended to make our transportation investments more efficient, helping to ease congestion and reduce pollution."

The President's order also forms an interagency Transportation Infrastructure Streamlining Task Force, with Mineta acting as chairman, to streamline environmental reviews of specific, high-impact airport, highway, transit and intermodal projects.

Mineta said that all activities flowing from the order will still have to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and all other environmental statutes, and that the President's order today goes beyond just compliance. The executive order directs the Dept. of Transportation to continue and expand environmental stewardship for transportation projects, he said.

Mineta said the reason for the order is simple – too many road projects are delayed by what he called a "complex and often duplicative" environmental permit process. In 2001, the median time to process an environmental document for major highway projects was four and a half years. The total time required for a major new highway to go from planning to operation averages 13 years now, he said.