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Community Impact Assessment

Frequently Asked Questions

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Community Impact Assessment Basics

Performing a Community Impact Assessment

CIA's Relationship to Other Government Programs

Products and Results of CIA

Community Impact Assessment Basics

What is Community Impact Assessment (CIA)?
CIA stands for Community Impact Assessment. It is an iterative process that raises awareness and understanding of both positive and negative effects of proposed actions on the human (social and economic) environment over time. It is iterative because communities are constantly changing. CIA uses data analysis as well as broad community interaction to enable informed transportation decisionmaking in compliance with 23 U.S.C. 109(h). MORE DETAILS

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What are the origins of CIA and how did it evolve?
After the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and the Federal-aid Highway Act in 1970 were enacted, transportation departments started conducting in-depth assessments of the environmental impacts caused by transportation projects. The Federal-aid Highway Act of 1970 contains wording in 23 U.S.C. 109(h) that encourages consideration of impacts on the human environment. As anticipated, much attention was initially given to the assessment of natural resource impacts, with their many laws, permits, and oversight organizations. FHWA and transportation departments have become more sensitive over time to developing transportation projects that better fit our many diverse communities. As a result, there has been a better understanding and assessment of community issues in relation to transportation actions.

When President Clinton's Executive Order 12898 (1994) on Environmental Justice (EJ) covering minority and low-income populations was issued, many practitioners raised concerns. FHWA's position was that practitioners doing adequate assessment of impacts for Title VI and 23 U.S.C. 109(h) could sufficiently address EJ. With this new focus, some practitioners asked for more guidance due to concerns that they may not have been adequately assessing impacts.

In late 1995, FHWA, at the request of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), began efforts to enhance transportation professionals' expertise on assessing transportation-project effects on communities, especially minority and low-income populations. FHWA, with the assistance of several representatives from State Departments of Transportation (DOTs), published a guidance booklet in September 1996, entitled Community Impact Assessment: A Quick Reference for Transportation. This publication outlined the community-impact-assessment process, highlighted critical issues, tools and sources, and heightened awareness of the impacts that proposed transportation actions can have on communities, neighborhoods, and people. And thus, the National CIA movement was born.

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Why is CIA important?
CIA provides a framework – a systematic approach – for assessing the potential positive and negative effects of proposed transportation actions on the human environment. It also helps to incorporate community viewpoints into the transportation decisionmaking process. CIA supports the development of better transportation projects that meet community needs, goals, and values as well as mobility and safety.

Communities must "live" with the results of transportation agency efforts – planning, project development, implementation, operation, and maintenance. CIA helps communities and decisionmakers understand how proposed activities will likely affect communities, and provides opportunities for communities to give input. When public agencies and officials understand how decisions affect communities, they can more easily avoid or minimize negative impacts and promote positive impacts.

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What are the advantages of CIA?
The advantages of CIA can include: early identification and mitigation of issues; increased communication; public acceptance and support that comes through an open, inclusive process; improved agency reputation; streamlining through increased communication and trust; and avoidance of litigation.

CIA encourages participation and public "ownership" of the activity or project. The transportation professional knows the process, the constraints—legislation, funding, permits—and has the specialized expertise to help the community address their transportation needs. The "collective" community knows what they value, want, and need. CIA views a transportation project as the community's project and recognizes that a solution needs to fit the community's values, wants, and needs. It is the practitioner's job to be objective and present the facts to decisionmakers so informed decisions can be made. This includes potential impacts on the human environment. All of the public may not be happy, but generally are accepting if they feel decisionmakers listened to what they said, recognized concerns, investigated their assumptions, presented the facts, heard all "sides," and had a process that was open and "fair."

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Do the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration support CIA?

Yes. Decisions by FHWA/FTA to fund transportation actions are influenced in part by the impact those actions will have on the human environment. Various Federal laws and regulations require consideration of the impacts of agency decisions on the human environment. CIA gives an understanding of how transportation decisions will affect the community. This will support better transportation decisionmaking. CIA helps to give a thorough understanding of the social and economic impacts of transportation decisions on communities. This, in turn, supports informed transportation decisionmaking. Through CIA, FHWA/FTA gain information on how communities will be affected by each proposed transportation action. Through CIA and good public outreach, stakeholder organizations are identified for interagency coordination with FHWA/FTA.

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Performing a Community Impact Assessment

How can I assess community impacts?

Begin immediately to build a network of community contacts and stay in touch. Use the following steps to assess community impacts:

  1. Gather existing community information from secondary sources, particularly official jurisdictional maps. Within your organization, find out who lives in the area. What major projects have occurred or are planned in addition to yours? What is the accident history and level of service (LOS) on roadways? What are the environmentally sensitive areas? Where are the mapped and unmapped recreational areas?
  2. Map available community data (schools, churches, fire, police, shopping, etc.) with community identifiers (labels) on each, for presentation to the public.
  3. Compile a list of elected officials, staff of all participating agencies, interest groups, community leaders, "interested parties," resident groups interested in transportation, and individuals that may be adversely affected by the project. Visit or call them and use simple surveys to start building working relationships and your knowledge of the area. MORE DETAILS
  4. Analyze your available data and present it to the public, asking them to confirm and add to your information. Follow Federal and any State Environmental Justice guidelines, and make sure you are inclusive of the traditionally underserved as well as reluctant public groups and individuals.
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How can I best describe a "community"?

A good starting point is the use of a community characteristics inventory (CCI), sometimes referred to as a community profile or community fact sheet. Community web sites also often have this type of information. This will give you a snapshot of the community as it is at that "moment in time." It will describe the community, its values, history, vision, people, cultures, and unique and important places as well as any potential community issues. Such a document may include:

A study area generally includes communities within and immediately surrounding where the proposed change will occur, and where most of the direct and indirect effects will be felt. The creation of a community profile helps to establish the context for assessing potential impacts and for decisionmaking. Developing a community profile involves identifying community issues and attitudes, locating notable features in the study area, and assessing social and economic conditions and trends in the community and region that have a bearing on the transportation action.

You should also consider including in your inventory a study-area map, a narrative that summarizes existing conditions, a description of community issues, and tables and graphs of more detailed data on demographics and socio-economic activity. Community outreach will help you verify how accurate your inventory is and will help you to continually refine it as community conditions change.

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What are some good local and National data sources?

One of the best data sources is the decennial U.S. Census. Census data are good for getting started but generally need to be adjusted to get local data:

The Census Transportation Planning Products (CTPP) is funded by the American American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and generated within FHWA, using information within the Census.

Other Federal sources include:

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How can I determine if my data is too old?

Your data should represent the most recent estimates or forecasts provided by local, regional, State, or Federal sources. Demographic data should reflect the most recently available U.S. decennial census data. For most data, a 2- to 3-year lag following the decennial census is reasonable. If you are using census data, which ages quickly, it should be backed up with more recent data, such as demographic data from schools. If, for instance, your census data show a very low percentage of minorities in the area but the school data show a much higher percentage or a different mix, it is a good indication that important changes have taken place and the census data are too old. More than one data source will usually help you determine if your data are too old especially if one source is more recent. The public can help verify the accuracy of your data and whether it is too old, if asked. Using up-to-date information for studies will give a more accurate picture of the community and help make fairer comparisons of potential benefits, costs, and impacts. If adequate trend analysis exists and if reasonable assumptions are used, then reasonably good estimates and reliable conclusions can be reached.

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How can CIA be applied?

The CIA process is best applied as an integral part of all transportation decisionmaking processes, including planning and project development. Good CIA integrates broad transportation needs with community functions and visions as well as environmental and cultural preservation needs. Initially, the CIA practitioner collects historic and current data about the community to get an initial impression from demographic trends, official and unofficial community leaders, types of businesses and jobs the community supports, and an overview of land uses.

Agencies and jurisdictions can help the community understand how transportation decisionmaking occurs. Community members should feel comfortable explaining their needs, community values, and their vision of the community's future through the CIA process.

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What kind of CIA training and guidance is available?

At least 13 State DOTs have formal or informal CIA Guidance, notably CALTRANS, FDOT, and IL DOT. Federal guidance related to CIA was originally available in 1987 in 23 CFR 771 which is now archived; however, the FHWA technical advisory TA6640.8(a) issued in 1987 is still current and provides useful guidance. The 1997 23 CFR 771 can be found at The FHWA publication "Community Impact Assessment: A Quick Reference for Transportation" is an excellent resource.

The FHWA Resource Center offers technical assistance in CIA tailored to a State needs and availability. Several State DOTs have either a CIA course or courses that include substantial CIA modules—CALTRANS, FL DOT, TX DOT, and MD SHA have CIA courses.

In 2007, Illinois DOT issued a revision of their 1992 Socio-economic Assessment Manual. It is currently titled "Community Impact Assessment Manual" and is available as formal guidance for State Districts and Consultants. You can review this manual via the IDOT website at:

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What skills are necessary to be a CIA Practitioner?

CIA practitioners can benefit the most from a background in transportation planning, NEPA, public outreach, or the social-science fields. Training or experience could also include socio-economic statistical analyses. A CIA practitioner should like working with people and possess inherent "people skills" (the ability to listen, talk, and interact with people of all backgrounds). CIA practitioners should be well versed in various public-participation skills and techniques, particularly negotiation and facilitation skills.

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When should agencies initiate CIA analysis?

Ideally, in early planning. CIA encourages early collaboration (when groups can develop partnerships) to identify and resolve issues before they grow, and assures that planning and project decisions are made with community concerns and values taken into account. Agencies should initiate CIA in advance of planning, project, and program needs. In determining when it is best to start, agencies should consider several factors, including: length of time before a plan, project, or program is likely to start; availability of new, independent data or data sources; or significant anticipated or on-going changes in community structure. The CIA process should begin during problem definition in planning and be updated for project scoping. During scoping, a community profile should be updated from planning to help analyze anticipated impacts and compare the effects of the build and no-build alternatives, including impacts from anticipated mitigation on the community. Because communities are in a constant state of change, you must revisit both your data and the community to see how changes have affected the community's concerns and values. For example, if development does not occur where it was anticipated and ends up where it was unanticipated, the project purpose and need may change.

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How and when do I evaluate secondary/indirect and cumulative impacts on the human environment?

Cumulative impacts are the sum of all effects from past, present, or reasonably foreseeable future actions. These effects include alterations to natural and human environments. They can be transportation-related actions or other actions, such as a new commercial area or residential development. Indirect effects are caused by the proposed action and are later in time or farther removed in distance, but still reasonably foreseeable.

Like direct impacts, indirect and cumulative impacts should be considered during planning and project development. Although your information can only be as detailed as the available data allows, early consideration of the community context may improve your ability to avoid or minimize effects. If communities are involved early enough, they may be able to help develop reasonable strategies for avoidance, minimization, and mitigation.

It can be difficult to evaluate indirect and cumulative effects on communities. Changes to communities resulting from the transportation program or project should be considered along with other actions that could cause a cumulative effect on that community. Changes in social structure and communities resulting from economic changes; changes to travel patterns; and traffic resulting from changes in commuting patterns, rezoning, or other land-use decisions should all be considered for their effects. Evaluating indirect and cumulative effects on community values and social networks is even more difficult. When you develop a CIA, using community input and expert panels, or similar methods may be a better way to capture these effects than trying to use data analysis. Indirect and cumulative effects also need to be re-evaluated periodically since change continually occurs in a community.

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CIA's Relationship to Other Government Programs

How does CIA enhance NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), Section 106 (National Historic Preservation Act), Section 4(f), Context Sensitive Solutions, and other studies/reviews?

CIA identifies community issues, needs, and possible solutions early in the transportation planning process. It helps strengthen the public-involvement process by assuring that interested and affected parties, even relatively inaccessible (different language, culture, etc.) or hostile communities, are aware of a planned or ongoing study, and are provided information and opportunities for input. The CIA process can serve as an important part of analytic and assessment studies. With its emphasis on and concern about community effects, CIA provides an opportunity to better understand local trends and potential consequences for communities. The recognition and analysis of several topics helps integrate diverse disciplines and offers insight into environmental, historic preservation, and design studies. All of this supports NEPA, Section 106 (PDF), Section 4(f), and CSS. In short, CIA is the human part of context sensitive solutions. While mitigation can reduce some effects, it may cause other effects, so it pays to be aware of those consequences and to be open with the public.

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What is the relationship between CIA and CSS?

CIA and CSS (Context Sensitive Solutions) are closely related to each other. Both consider and involve the community in the transportation decisionmaking process. CSS is a comprehensive approach to transportation decisionmaking that embraces the philosophy that transportation programs and projects should address transportation needs, be an asset to the community, and be compatible with the both the human and natural environments. CSS is an iterative process that involves a full range of stakeholders in transportation decisionmaking, including communities affected by projects and programs, while still meeting transportation objectives and standards.

CIA can be used to understand the human environment "context" and integrate CSS into transportation decisionmaking. CIA's primary focus is on the human environment and community needs but may also include the values communities put on the natural environment; i.e., the part recreation areas, waterways, wildlife habitat, and parks play in quality of life. CIA supports and enhances CSS by identifying stakeholders and their concerns in the communities affected by transportation plans, projects, and programs. The CIA process helps ensure community, social, and economic values are incorporated into transportation decisionmaking by identifying solutions that best fit the community's needs.

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How do Title VI and Environmental Justice relate to CIA?

Title VI refers to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It has incorrectly come to be used as a collective term for nondiscrimination statutes with similar wording and protection provided in Title VI but covering different protected groups; statutes such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Various statutes protect varied groups from discrimination; i.e., race, color, national origin, age, sex/gender, handicap/disability, and creed. As with any law, code, or regulation, government agencies must comply with these statutes or risk being challenged in court. MORE DETAILS

Environmental Justice is a Presidential Executive Order (EO) with EPA as the lead agency, and is not a law. However, any agency that accepts Federal funds must follow all relevant Federal requirements, including Executive Orders. Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice is based on Title VI. It applies to minority and low-income populations, and urges Federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States and its territories and possessions, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands.

Also important to CIA is Executive Order 13166, which aims to improve access to federally conducted and federally assisted programs and activities for persons who are limited in their English proficiency. You may need to include translated materials, provide interpreters, or otherwise change how information is presented for those who are not native English speakers.

FHWA's policy, stated in 1985 and 1995 memos to its field offices, is to pursue nondiscrimination in all its programs, policies, and activities. The practitioner should remember that attention focused on specific groups does not lessen the need to consider all segments of the community during decisionmaking.

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How does CIA differ from public involvement?

CIA is an iterative process that involves gathering data. Public involvement is a tool used during CIA for gathering, assessing, and analyzing data. CIA helps inform and involve agencies and the public about the possible social and economic impacts of proposed transportation plans and projects. The practitioner collects data; community members can verify the accuracy of this data and provide additional information, along with explaining community values, needs, and preferences. The community can help project planners by providing useful information that cannot be obtained elsewhere, such as: an unmarked graveyard, buried fuel tank (once common on farms), historic properties, and who to contact for certain information. This type of information can help speed the process and avoid project slowdowns.

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Products and Results of CIA

What can be done to help the public understand the meaning, applicability, and benefits of CIA?

Explain to the public that CIA collects information about the community and possible effects of transportation actions on both the built and human environments. Let them know that their input is USEFUL AND WANTED as well as an IMPORTANT part of this process.

Explain how and why public agency staff and consultants use the information to do socio-economic analyses and how this information will be presented to decisionmakers.

Explain how decisionmakers will use information gathered and analyzed during the CIA process along with other environmental information and funding limitations to make transportation decisions, such as safety priorities, mobility needs/modal choice, project location, and mitigation. Detailed and accurate socio-economic data can help residents and decisionmakers better understand and appreciate the communities by identifying community issues, the potential impacts of actions, and effective mitigation measures.

Explain that we use visualization as well as text, as important tools for presenting data and conclusions in a "people friendly" way. Graphics should be able to stand alone. Visual media can also help people with limited English mastery or limited literacy understand key points.

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What type(s) of document(s) result from CIA?

A variety of documents can result from the CIA process, depending on the project phase and type of study. Public and interagency meetings should be followed up with meeting notes or reports. These documents should be available for public review. The notes or reports also serve as an integral part of larger studies (e.g., NEPA) by identifying public outreach and agency coordination efforts as well as issues of concern to the public and documenting existing conditions.

Community characteristics – including demographic, historic, economic, aesthetic, and infrastructure summaries – can result in a technical report (Community Profile/Community Characteristics Inventory) that may be incorporated into many sections of a NEPA document by summary or reference. This information developed early in the process can support the development of alternatives, inform choices on major design concepts/features as part of CSS, and assist with other aspects of decisionmaking. Analysis of impacts on communities may be summarized in a CIA report; again this may serve as a stand-alone report as well as be incorporated into sections of a NEPA document. This information is important for documenting and analyzing facts and perceptions. It can also help to identify avoidance, minimization, and appropriate mitigation opportunities. CIA and its resulting technical reports can also help determine the type of document that should be written; i.e., environmental impact statement, environmental assessment, or categorical exclusion. Determining "significant environmental impacts" [23 CFR 771.117(b)(1)] or "substantial controversy on environmental grounds" [23 CFR 771.117(b)(2)] can come from interaction with the community when you learn the community's perspective of the plan or project.

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Updated: 9/23/2014
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