Venable Transportation and Infrastructure Lawyer Margaret Strand Contributes to National Academy of Sciences Report on Ecological Impacts of Paved Roads in U.S.

5 min

WASHINGTON, D.C. - (February 3, 2006) – Margaret Strand, a partner with Venable LLP’s Transportation and Infrastructure practice, has contributed to the National Academy of Sciences’s newly issued report entitled “Assessing and Managing the Ecological Impacts of Paved Roads.” The report is the broadest study to date examining how road development in the United States affects the natural environment, in particular wildlife habitats. The 250-page report serves as a virtual road map for state and local highway authorities, as well as engineering and construction companies, to work in concert with environmental groups on highway development.

Despite more than four million miles of paved roads in the United States, the country is in the midst of a capacity shortage. Federal and state governments forecast the need for additional highway construction, particularly in suburban and exurban areas where it will greatly impact wildlife eco-systems. Because no single law exists addressing ecological concerns for transportation projects, there is wide discrepancy on how to balance environmental concerns and road planning.

Since the mid-1990s, several federal transportation statutes have directed national and state highway authorities to adopt a more sensitive approach to the environment, particularly with respect to wildlife habitat disruption caused by new roads. Now, with an increasing amount of federal money being directed to new highways, ecological concerns become more important than ever.

“Although a wide range of laws, regulations, and policies require that new road construction take in some consideration of wildlife impact, the existing legal structure leaves significant gaps,” said Ms. Strand. “This report represents an important consensus from some disparate and often opposed stakeholders – in particular, state and federal highway authorities and conservation groups. We think it will serve as a handbook for ecologically minded road construction for years to come.”

Ms. Strand authored the chapter in the NAS report that provides a legal context for road planning and policy and she contributed significant portions to other chapters. Joining her on the NAS committee were a number of prominent researchers and professionals from the transportation and environmental fields, including representatives from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Western Transportation Institute and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The report's recommendations focus on the need for integration of ecological considerations in all phases of road development, including maintenance of existing roads. Among the study’s recommendations:

  • The establishment of a set of rapid screening and assessment methods for environmental impacts of transportation and a national ecological database.
  • A national effort to develop standards for data collection.
  • Improved models to predict how roads will affect environmental conditions.
  • Development of an environmental information and decision support system by federal and state transportation agencies.
  • Better collaboration among transportation and natural resource planners to support mutual objectives.

Ms. Strand was uniquely qualified to contribute to the NAS report, bringing a rare combination of exceptional credentials in both transportation and the environment. She recently served as Special Assistant Attorney General to the State of Utah in order to negotiate a settlement with the Sierra Club and other conservation groups that allowed for the construction of the new Legacy Parkway along the shores of the Great Salt Lake. From 1984 to 1991, she was Chief of the Environmental Defense Section in the U.S. Justice Department, Environmental and Natural Resources Division. Ms. Strand has served on the Environmental Law Committee of the Transportation Research Board, National Academy of Sciences since 2002 and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology from 1993 through 2001. She has also authored numerous works on environmental law issues including the Wetlands Deskbook (Environmental Law Institute, 1993, 1997).

“We think the new report represents a turning point. It represents a meeting of the minds that accommodates both the need for highway expansion with the need for habitat protection,” said Ms. Strand. “There are so many stakeholders whose interests need to converge in order to achieve the best approach to well-planned road development – state and local highway authorities, engineering and construction firms, trucking companies, as well as the millions of Americans who traverse the country’s highways every day.”

Venable’s transportation and infrastructure practice includes attorneys with extensive experience in federal legislative, regulatory and appropriations issues, environmental matters, as well as state and local government counseling. Venable partners have represented clients before the Department of Transportation, its modal administrations, and all of the transportation-related committees of Congress. James H. Burnley IV, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure practice, served as U.S. Secretary of Transportation from 1987 to 1989. John Milliken, another senior member of the practice, served as Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1990 to 1993.

Venable’s environmental group provides a full range of legal services on the federal, state and local levels in all areas of environmental law. Its experience ranges from the representation of clients accused of environmental crimes or civil and administrative violations to the counseling of businesses on permitting, planning, and compliance requirements for transportation projects as well as other developments.

One of the American Lawyer’s top 100 law firms, Venable LLP has attorneys practicing in all areas of corporate and business law, complex litigation, intellectual property and government affairs. Venable serves corporate, institutional, governmental, nonprofit and individual clients throughout the U.S. and around the world from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and offices in California, Maryland, New York and Virginia.