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Environmental Justice and NEPA in the Transportation Arena: Project Highlights

Effective Practices

This report supplements 10 detailed project case studies available on FHWA's Environmental Justice website. Brief descriptions of these cases are provided in Table 2. Longer summaries are provided in Appendix B.

The case studies confirm that there is no uniform approach to addressing environmental justice in the NEPA review process. The approach and the depth of analysis are dependent on the nature of the proposed transportation project and how it would affect the community. Thoroughly analyzing issues of environmental justice combines enhanced public involvement and comparison of the distribution and scale of impacts and benefits. The case studies summarized in Table 2 represent effective practices in at least one of these aspects of environmental justice analysis-but not always both. The FHWA's 2011 "Guidance on Environmental Justice in NEPA" describes principles of addressing environmental justice as part of the environmental review. Following the summary table, the effective practices identified in the case studies are organized around three of those principles: (1) identifying existing minority and low-income populations; (2) explaining coordination, access to information, and participation; and (3) identifying disproportionately high and adverse effects.

Table 2. Case Study Descriptions and Effective Practices

Case Name

Case Description

Effective Practices

Case #1: Removal of Los Primos Supermarket - Analyzing Impacts and Identifying Alternatives: Alston Avenue Project, Durham, North Carolina

Alston Avenue in Durham, North Carolina, runs through a historically Black/African American community with a growing Hispanic/Latino population. When the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) proposed to widen an approximately 1-mile stretch of the corridor, an initial community impact assessment (CIA) was conducted. At that time, input received through public outreach did not lead the NCDOT to determine that the removal of Los Primos Supermarket would be an adverse impact on the community. As the study continued and the agency received additional input from the City of Durham and community groups, NCDOT determined that a closer look at potential implications of the loss of the Los Primos Supermarket was needed. The NCDOT conducted a series of supplemental studies and additional outreach to further describe the services provided by Los Primos, determine whether a new grocery store at a nearby location could provide the same services, and characterize the potential impacts of removing or relocating Los Primos on the surrounding low-income, minority community with high numbers of car-less households.

Interviews with community leaders; surveys given in multiple languages on location at community resources where impacts are expected; a detailed site comparison analysis considering factors such as visibility, accessibility, crime, and proximity to low-income and minority populations; extensive coordination with multiple agencies and departments; and flexibility in roadway design.

Case #2: Balancing the Environment and Economic Development: Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project, Port of Long Beach, California

The Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project in the Port of Long Beach (POLB), California, combines and upgrades the POLB's two aging, irregularly shaped marine container terminals to create one rectangular-shaped facility that would operate more efficiently, improve the environment, support the economy, and create thousands of new jobs. As part of the NEPA process, the POLB and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) conducted an environmental justice analysis to study the potential for the Middle Harbor Project construction and operations to result in disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on low-income and minority populations. The population in most of the Census block groups within the project study area exceeds 80-percent minority, and exceeds 10 percent low income. Disproportionately high and adverse impacts on environmental justice communities were related to construction noise, and cumulative impacts on air quality and health risk. This case highlights the POLB's Community Mitigation Grant Program that funds projects that would improve air quality in the region overall, ultimately contributing to mitigation of impacts identified in the environmental justice analysis for the Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project and cumulative impacts from other ongoing port projects and operations. Despite associated impacts, the project received broad support and was approved on April 13, 2009. Project construction started in spring 2011.

Addressing air-quality impacts as a result of project operations, including cumulative odor effects and cumulative health-risk effects associated with diesel particulate matter; defining the area of influence (study area); and development of a formal marketing plan to target audiences in order to successfully educate the community and solicit input from the community on the project and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)/Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

Case #3: Effective Outreach and Analysis Strategies for a Regional Study Area: North I-25 Project, Denver to Fort Collins Area, Colorado

The North I-25 project area, located in northern Colorado between Fort Collins and Denver, spreads over 61 miles north to south and 20 to 30 miles east to west, affecting 45 counties and communities. The project area is home to various environmental justice groups including a Hmong community, an Asian ethnic group from southern China and Southeast Asia, and Hispanic/Latino ethnic communities that required specialized outreach efforts. Given the large extent of the project area, each community had its own concerns and issues. Through consensus building and collaborative decision making, a preferred alternative that addressed the concerns of local stakeholders was identified. Each project alternative (known as packages) proposed multi-modal improvements involving bus, rail, and highway improvements on different alignments.

Strategies for public outreach at a regional scale, considering adverse and beneficial project impacts when determining whether impacts will be disproportionately high and adverse, and reaching out to limited English proficiency (LEP) populations.

Case #4: Bagley Pedestrian Bridge - "Connecting Neighbors": Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project, Detroit, Michigan

The largely minority Mexicantown community in Detroit, Michigan, was physically divided in 1970, when a section of freeway along I-75 was completed. During preparation of the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the I-75 Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project (Gateway Project) in the 1990s, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MIDOT) and the FHWA identified reconnecting East and West Mexicantown across I-75 as a "need" to be addressed. As Bagley Street is one of the main links between East and West Mexicantown, support for a pedestrian bridge spanning I-75 at this location was embraced by the community. The Mexicantown community was engaged throughout every phase of the Gateway Project, including the design of the Bagley Pedestrian Bridge. Successful completion of the Bagley Pedestrian Bridge Project signified positive changes to come for the Mexicantown community linking the east and west sides of the neighborhood once again. The public ceremony for the brand new landmark and tourist attraction was marked by the joining of U.S. and Mexican government representatives, along with visitors from across the State and Mexicantown residents, to unveil the two stunning new works of art that grace the bridge's eastern plaza.

Mitigation for barrier-type impacts associated with transportation projects, use of public art in transportation, use of a community ombudsman, techniques for addressing LEP, best practices in early and ongoing public involvement, and the importance of consistency in project staff.

Case #5: Regional Tolling Analysis Informs NEPA Assessment of Cumulative Impacts on Low-Income Populations: Long-Range Transportation Plan, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas

The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, studied the environmental justice impacts of the tolled highways and high-occupancy vehicle (HOV)/managed lanes in the region's long-range plan. The Regional Tolling Analysis (RTA) was an outgrowth of the Mobility 2030 plan, which was adopted in 2007, and was updated as part of the most recent metropolitan long-range transportation plan, Mobility 2035, adopted in 2011. A first of its kind in Texas, the RTA used information gathered from the travel demand model to evaluate impacts of proposed transportation projects with a pricing component (e.g., toll roads) on environmental justice populations throughout the NCTCOG metropolitan planning area. Because the projects involved tolling, low-income populations were the primary focus of the study. Using 16 dimensions of system analysis, the RTA found that any cumulative burdens were outweighed by cumulative benefits, and there would be no disproportionately high and adverse cumulative impacts on environmental justice populations. Information gained during the RTA is also included in individual environmental documents for roadway projects that have a tolling element. This does not replace the complete environmental justice analysis and associated public involvement conducted as part of the environmental review of projects.

Regional analysis of cumulative environmental justice impacts, use of travel demand models to analyze environmental justice impacts, impacts of toll roads on low-income populations.

Case #6: Building a Foundation for Meaningful and Active Participation: I‑70 East Project, Denver Area, Colorado

The construction of I-70 near Denver, Colorado, in the 1960s, and the resulting split of predominantly minority and low-income surrounding neighborhoods, left a legacy of distrust for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). When CDOT set out to improve the I-70 East corridor in 2003, they knew they had to work proactively and collaboratively with these same communities to build their trust and ensure their active and meaningful participation in the environmental study. The outreach conducted for the project set new ground for CDOT. The emphasis of the outreach process was on gaining maximum participation from the local communities. This also meant educating the communities about technical areas such as noise and transportation design and how they affect lives. The case also included an extensive air-quality analysis, analysis of health-related impacts, and the evaluation of a community-based alternative.

Fully addressing impact-areas of concern to environmental justice communities (in this case air-quality and health-related impacts), the evaluation of a community-based alternative, and extensive public outreach conducted to build trust and create a truly inclusive process.

Case #7: Mitigating Impacts on the Pleasant Hill Neighborhood: I-16/I-75 Interchange Project, Macon, Georgia

The community of Pleasant Hill in Macon, Georgia, was bisected by the construction of I-75 in the early 1960s. Forty years later, proposed improvements to the I-16/I-75 interchange had the potential to adversely impact Pleasant Hill once again. Thanks to the engagement of this historical Black/African-American community during the study of proposed improvements, with strong support from FHWA and the State DOT, potential adverse impacts of the selected alternative were minimized, and a mitigation plan was developed and incorporated into the project with a written commitment from all parties to its implementation.

Community engagement in design and selection of an alternative as well as in mitigation-plan development; recognition of cumulative impacts; and collaborative and pro-active participation of community leaders and FHWA representatives in assisting the State DOT project team.

Case #8: Preserving Community Cohesion through Southend Park Neighborhood Redevelopment: Newtown Pike Extension Project, Lexington, Kentucky

Davistown is one of the oldest Black/African-American communities in the Lexington, Kentucky area. During the preparation of the EIS for the project, it was determined that indirect impacts associated with the Newtown Pike Extension would be expected to increase the land value in Davistown and surrounding neighborhoods, and would effectively force out low-income residents through increased redevelopment pressures. Davistown residents had been adversely affected by decades of discussions around a potential Newtown Pike Extension through their neighborhood, resulting in a sense of distrust at the outset of the environmental study. The project team hired a community liaison and included community members on project advisory and steering committees to gain the trust of the community as well as their participation in decision making. With community participation, an innovative mitigation option was developed based on the use of a Community Land Trust to provide long-term, sustainable, and affordable housing to community residents so that they could remain in the area even as land values increase.

Intensive public involvement during corridor planning to define neighborhood visions, constraints, and opportunities; conducting a CIA and Socio-economic Baseline Analysis at the outset of the environmental study to help determine the level of analysis that would be needed and to identify potential issues early on; the use of a community liaison to facilitate communication between the project team and the affected community; and establishment of a land trust to ensure long-term, sustainable, and affordable housing for affected community residents.

Case #9: Extraordinary Outreach Guides Project Decisions and Avoids Environmental Justice Issues: Business 40 project, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The NCDOT is proposing to improve a 1-mile section of Business 40 through downtown Winston-Salem. The project area is located in the heart of Winston-Salem and includes a large portion of downtown as well as the central neighborhoods that define the core area of this metropolitan region. Core neighborhoods include a mix of affluent and largely white populations, low-income populations, and minority populations. Other ongoing traffic improvements in the area have required a series of traffic detours and delays, and resulted in a sense of frustration for many residents. Extraordinary public involvement efforts, including a door-to-door survey through all neighborhoods with potential to be directly impacted by the project, were used early in the environmental study to understand public perspectives and build a foundation for project decisions. This outreach led to a largely supported decision to close this section of Business 40 for a period of 2 years during construction in lieu of a 6-year partial closure.

Effective practices in addressing environmental justice include: early, phased, and extensive public involvement; door-to-door outreach; effective meeting practices; training of the outreach team; practical tips for public involvement; establishing effective communication among the project team; and structured decision making.

Case #10: Building a Safer, More Reliable Bridge and Roadway while Avoiding Environmental Justice Impacts: SR-520: I-5 to Medina, Seattle Area, Washington

The SR 520: I-5 to Medina Project in Seattle, Washington, addresses the two key issues facing the SR 520 corridor: (1) bridge structures that are vulnerable to catastrophic failure, and (2) traffic demand that exceeds capacity. As part of the NEPA process, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the FHWA conducted an extensive environmental justice analysis to study the potential of disproportionately high and adverse impacts on minority and low-income populations from: replacing the floating bridge and expanding the Portage Bay and Evergreen Point bridges, rebuilding the bridges over SR 520, expanding the capacity of SR 520 (from 4 to 6 lanes), and tolling. Most of the Census block groups within the study area have relatively low concentrations of minority and low-income populations, with the exception of a few block groups with relatively high concentrations of minority and low-income populations. Key environmental justice issues were related to tolling and impacts on resources important to Native American tribes. From the beginning of the environmental analysis and decision-making process, the WSDOT and FHWA developed and implemented an ongoing program to engage the public, provide information about the project, and reach out to all potentially affected members of the public, including low-income and minority populations and those with LEP. WSDOT coordinated with tribes through a government-to-government relationship.

Addressing project issues and concerns identified during public outreach as part of the environmental justice analysis; utilizing outcomes of outreach and research conducted for projects to inform outreach to low-income and minority populations for later project phases; techniques for addressing LEP; determining the need to expand the study area and identifying a travelshed for the purposes of environmental justice analysis; research, analysis, and public outreach as it relates to the equity of tolling projects; and working with tribes through a government-to-government relationship to identify, avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts on important resources.

Principle #1: Identifying Existing Minority and Low-Income Populations and Community Characteristics

Recommendations from FHWA's 2011 "Guidance on Environmental Justice in NEPA"

Using localized census tract data and other relevant information sources, gather data and list any readily identifiable groups or clusters of minority or low-income persons in the environmental justice study area. Small clusters or dispersed populations should not be overlooked.

(1) In the appropriate section of the NEPA document, typically the section regarding social and economic impacts, provide demographic information on the general population in the project study area. Social characteristics should include identification of the ethnicity, age, mobility and income level of the population. These data elements, while not all required for an environmental justice analysis, are important to provide context for understanding area demographics.

(2) When there are no minority or low-income populations in the study area, no environmental justice analysis is required.

(3) When it has been determined that there will be no adverse effects on identified environmental justice populations by the proposed project [based on the environmental justice analysis], the NEPA document should reflect that determination...

(4) When there are minority and low-income populations in the study area that may be adversely impacted, follow the next steps of the guidance to determine whether there is a disproportionately high and adverse impact on the population.

Effective Practices from the Case Studies

There were environmental justice (low-income and/or minority) populations identified in the study area for each of the projects highlighted in the case studies. Census data were used as a primary means of identifying these populations. Additional effective practices related to identifying environmental justice populations are described in this section.

Use updated demographic data and information about community characteristics

The initial CIA for the Alston Avenue project in Durham, North Carolina (Case #1) was conducted in 2003. Project construction is not expected until 2014. Over the course of the study, the project team updated demographic data and information describing community characteristics multiple times. This was important as there was a trend of an increasing Hispanic/Latino population in the study area. As the Hispanic/Latino population increased, so did the importance of community resources and services that directly served that population.

Use a variety of sources and types of information to identify and characterize environmental justice populations

A range of tools supplemented Census data for the I-16/I-75 project in Georgia (Case #7) to help the project team better understand the circumstances of the affected communities. Initially, field surveys were conducted to identify community facilities and land use, and to confirm the presence of minority and low-income populations. Visual surveys were done to confirm housing vacancy rates and conditions as well as potential visual impacts. A walking/windshield survey showed that streets were in poor condition. Interviews with local officials combined with public outreach meetings also allowed better understanding of the circumstances faced by communities. In addition, historic documents (transportation planning documents and aerial photography) and interviews with past residents of Pleasant Hill provided important information on past impacts of the construction of I-75 on the community.

An extensive public scoping process painted the picture of the community and guided public outreach for the Business 40 project in North Carolina (Case #9). This project was initiated with an extensive public scoping process that involved using Census data, windshield surveys, and talking to a broad range of community leaders and service providers to identify environmental justice populations and characterize the community. The initial scoping led to an unprecedented public outreach campaign including door-to-door surveys within an area of direct community impacts.

National and regional data were combined for the Regional Tolling Analysis conducted in Texas (Case #5) to understand where environmental justice populations were on a regional scale. Data from the national American Community Survey, which is updated every 3 years, was used to identify low-income and minority populations, then combined with the MPO's transportation survey zones (TSZs) for analysis purposes.

Consider a study area that will address all potential impacts

The 2006 Draft EIS and 2010 Supplemental Draft EIS (SDEIS) prepared for the SR 520: I-5 to Medina project (Case #10) recognized that tolls associated with the build alternatives could negatively affect low-income individuals. While these tolls would have to be paid by all users of the new bridge except for vehicles in the HOV lanes (transit, emergency vehicles, and carpools with three or more people), they would represent a proportionally greater expense burden for low-income individuals than for other individuals. As part of the SDEIS, analysts determined the need to expand the study area of analysis for purposes of environmental justice. To identify SR 520 users who would be affected by tolling, environmental justice analysts examined the communities from which trips on the Evergreen Point Bridge originated (that is, the Evergreen Point Bridge travelshed). Extensive outreach was conducted to gather opinions regarding tolling from the public in this travelshed. This analysis was key to determining potential impacts on travelshed users and potential measures to mitigate and/or minimize the burden that tolls would present on low-income and LEP populations.

Principle #2: Coordination, Access to Information, and Participation

Recommendations from FHWA's 2011 "Guidance on Environmental Justice in NEPA"

The NEPA document should include in the appropriate section a discussion of major proactive efforts to ensure meaningful opportunities for public participation including activities to increase low-income and minority participation. Include in the document the views of the affected population(s) about the project and any proposed mitigation, and describe what steps are being taken to resolve any controversy that exists. Document the degree to which the affected groups of minority and/or low-income populations have been involved in the decision-making process related to the alternative selection, impact analysis, and mitigation.

Effective Practices from the Case Studies

Enhanced public involvement to ensure meaningful participation of low-income and minority populations in the environmental review process informs every aspect of the environmental justice analysis, from identifying populations and understanding what is important to communities, to characterizing impacts and developing appropriate mitigation measures. The case studies provide a wealth of information about both how to reach low-income and minority populations and how to use the information and input gathered from them.

Educate communities about environmental justice and the environmental process

After the scoping phase for the I-70 East project (Case #6), six working groups were established to provide an opportunity for residents, businesses, stakeholders, and property owners to continue their participation and learn more about how the scientists, engineers, and planners would evaluate specific resources. Working groups were composed of members of the community who expressed interest in joining the groups at neighborhood and corridor-wide meetings held in predominantly environmental justice communities or who signed up on the project website. The working groups were used to solicit input, establish dialogue about specific issues, and educate the members about the resources that would be considered in the EIS. Innovative exercises were incorporated into the meetings, such as puzzles that helped participants gain an understanding of alternative packaging, and an exercise designed to help participants understand how the various alternatives would be screened by comparing the process to buying a car. The Community Impacts Working Group focused on the potential for impacts on affected communities. One meeting of this group addressed environmental justice specifically. At this meeting, the project team showed an environmental justice video from the EPA. In addition, the project team gave a verbal presentation on environmental justice laws and regulations, provided a handout, and described how environmental justice would be addressed in the EIS. Members of the community also participated in an exercise that illustrated the use of population data similar to what is included in the draft EIS document.

Build trust through consistent and ongoing participation

Maintaining some consistency among those involved through the life of a project, and engaging the public frequently, helps to build trust in and recognition of the project team. This was accomplished in a variety of ways for the projects highlighted in the case studies.

A continuum of project-level and community leadership helped overcome challenges for the Ambassador Bridge Gateway project (Case #4). This project endured a number of challenges over its 16-year history: (1) a massive transportation project with a private bridge owner; (2) planning during three U.S. Presidential administrations, three Michigan gubernatorial administrations, and four Detroit mayoral administrations; and (4) design modifications to address stricter security criteria following the 9/11 terrorist attack. The constant factors over the 16-year project history included project leadership by the community and MIDOT staff. This project benefited from the continuum of project staff, consultants, and community leaders which contributed toward the success of the outreach program and, ultimately, the Bagley Pedestrian Bridge Project and the Gateway Project.

Commitment from key project staff was important for the I-70 East project (Case #6). Key team members were asked to come out to all meetings for this project. This commitment resulted in a recognizable face for the project and helped to build trust and a rapport with the community.

An ombudsman and strong representation from the affected community benefited both the Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project (Case #4) and the I-16/I-75 project (Case #7). Gateway Project staff found that an ombudsman was essential, particularly when there were issues that needed resolution with the community. Important characteristics in the ombudsman for this project were that he: understood spoken Spanish, was accessible to and trusted by the community, and had past experience with MIDOT and understood the transportation decision-making process.

A similar approach was used in the I-16/I-75 project. The presence of strong community representation, with understanding of both the neighborhood and past transportation projects, stimulated the Georgia DOT's (GDOT's) engagement with the community. It also facilitated the public participation process and communication between GDOT and the community.

A community liaison served as a facilitator for the Newtown Pike Extension project (Case #8). In this case, the project team faced a sense of distrust from residents of the Southend Park area. The project team understood that to engage the community in discussions of mitigation options would require establishing trust in communication between the project team and the community and that a liaison could facilitate this process. A liaison was able to take the time to listen to the community and understand their concerns and was not perceived as having one-sided interests. For the Newtown Pike Extension project, the liaison successfully mediated the process and helped facilitate communication and community engagement.

Hiring staff from within the affected community benefited two projects: I-70 East (Case #6) and Business 40 (Case #9). To facilitate the initial phase of the community-outreach process for these projects, individuals living within the community were hired to assist with outreach efforts, including door-to-door outreach, block meetings, and neighborhood meetings. These individuals leveraged their existing relationships and community understanding to gain credibility and trust, and encouraged their neighbors to get involved in the project. The individuals from the community and DOT staff consistently wore orange for all public involvement activities. In this way, even if the community did not recognize a specific person, they were able to identify project staff.

Build trust through a consistent message

Training, guidance from public involvement specialists, and the use of scripts ensured messages were consistent for the I-70 East project (Case #6) and Business 40 project (Case #9). All individuals hired from the community for the purposes of conducting surveys and supporting meetings for these projects were required to go through an extensive one-day training program to understand the project and their roles better. Each individual was provided a script regarding the project to ensure that everyone working in community outreach provided a clear, consistent, and concise message. For the Business 40 project, engineers and other technical specialists from the project team who needed to interact with the public were guided by the outreach team in their interactions. Engineers and lead-agency representatives speaking to the public were trained to reduce the use of acronyms and use terminologies easily understandable to the public-for example, using the word "ramp" instead of "interchange." All lead-agency representatives and consultants who would be engaged with the public at any of the meetings for the I-70 East project were asked to commit to walking the neighborhoods to gain familiarity with the community. Also, they had to participate in door-to-door surveys for a day. The purpose was to ensure that all members of the project team who interacted with public shared the same clear message.

Leverage "champions" and ensure there are clear communication channels within the transportation agency to help overcome obstacles

The Newtown Pike Extension project (Case #8) benefited from "champions" of the project. Adequately engaging communities and mitigating adverse impacts during the long process of design and implementation of transportation projects requires devoted personnel and considerable resources. Unexpected issues and challenges arise daily and can drag the process through unnecessary lengths of time. The Newtown Pike Extension project benefitted from personnel capable of moving the project forward through legal and procedural requirements. These champions were ideally housed in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet: as the State transportation department, they were best positioned to interact with local governments and the community as well as Federal authorities.

Effective and knowledgeable leadership guided the Business 40 project (Case #9) in an effective direction. One of the triggers for the extraordinary public involvement supporting the Business 40 project was the familiarity of the Division Engineer with the project area and his ability to communicate a need to NCDOT headquarters and have it supported. Without that awareness and communication, a different approach may have been used, the 6-year construction design approach may have been taken, and discontent on the part of the public could have caused slow-downs.

The team supporting the Business 40 project (Case #9) learned the importance of communication within the transportation agency. The Business 40 project team learned a lesson about lack of communication. The outreach team maintained a database of feedback received from the public during the survey and meeting process. That database was shared with NCDOT on a weekly basis, but the right people within the agency were not receiving and making use of this great data. The issue was corrected, but demonstrates the importance of setting up lines of communication within the agency and the various branches that will serve the project to ensure that public input is being considered in all aspects of project decisions.

Use professionals experienced with public involvement to design and guide the public involvement process and to serve as the main interface with the public

The reality is that not everyone is "a people person". A skilled transportation engineer may not be the best person to put in the position of explaining a transportation project to the public, or to gather feedback from them. The success of the outreach effort conducted in support of the Business 40 project (Case #9) was due largely to the level of experience of the outreach team. With an effort of this scale, there were always moving pieces. The outreach team always had to be ready for something to go wrong. Because of their experience, the outreach team was able to position themselves, prepare for, and minimize any issues that arose.

Ensure that all perspectives are being heard

Early and broad outreach into the community for the Business 40 project (Case #9) disproved input from community leaders. Project decisions cannot be made based on assumptions about a community's values, perspective, and preferences. These things cannot be learned behind a computer or through the collection of Census data, identification of community resources, and review of land use plans. Even talking to community leaders, which was done extensively during the scoping of the Business 40 project, is not enough; it requires going out into the community with a broad and deep reach, to listen directly to the public. This principle was proven in the early outreach conducted for Business 40. The expectation set by community leaders was that the public would favor a 6-year partial closure of the roadway for construction over a 2-year complete closure. The results of hands-on outreach proved that this was not the case.

Reaching out directly to those potentially impacted by the Alston Avenue project (Case #1) ensured potential impacts were understood. Extensive coordination early-on did a lot to head-off potential environmental justice issues associated with this project and build the trust of agency actions in the community. Despite this outreach, the NCDOT had not received the message from those participating in public involvement activities that potential impacts on Los Primos Supermarket would adversely affect the community. NCDOT recognized that participation in public meetings from the Hispanic/Latino segment of the low-income/minority community surrounding the project was very minimal. Instead of accepting the feedback the agency was receiving as comprehensive, NCDOT reached out directly to those who might be impacted-through interviews with community leaders, use of increased LEP resources, and a community survey conducted at the supermarket. The feedback through those activities provided a much different-and more complete-perspective about the importance of Los Primos Supermarket and elevated the need to avoid and minimize impacts on it.

Speak the local languages

It is important to identify the languages spoken by the community and provide language services for greater participation by the minority community. For the North I-25 project in Colorado (Case #3), the project team identified an Hispanic/Latino population and a Hmong population in the regional study area. To ensure effective communication, all materials for the project were translated into Spanish. In addition, for the Hmong community, materials were translated into Hmong. For the SR 520: I-5 to Medina project (Case #10), the project team sought-out opinions from the Spanish-speaking community. When invited Hispanic/Latino community members did not participate in the established focus groups, the project team reached out by telephone and gathered their input through surveys conducted in Spanish.

Go to the people

Many of the projects highlighted in the case studies found it effective to go out into the community to seek input.

North I-25 (Case #3) project staff attended local events. The project team held small meetings within the environmental justice communities and went to local cultural events to provide information about the project. Conducting smaller meetings within the communities resulted in greater participation than other methods.

A community event hosted by the project team benefited the Newtown Pike Extension project (Case #8). The Community Unity Day was held at a neighborhood center. Approximately 150 people attended to enjoy a cookout, play games, and hear more about the Southend Park Urban Village Plan concepts that were part of the project. Several former residents, and family members of current residents, came to the Community Unity Day and expressed interest in moving back into the neighborhood when homes become available. This first Community Unity Day was so successful that it is held annually.

The Alston Avenue project (Case #1) team found that community service centers were a good place to reach out to environmental justice populations. In the case of the Alston Avenue project (Case #1), outreach staff went to community service centers that could potentially be impacted by the project (the Los Primos Supermarket and the Durham Rescue Mission) to observe activities and talk with community members who relied on those centers.

The Business 40 project (Case #9) outreach team found it was effective to go were the people were. The team went to the local shopping mall on the busiest day of the year (Black Friday) to conduct surveys. They also set up tables at churches after Wednesday and Sunday services providing information to congregations, and distributed information at community events.

Think about barriers to participation, including local and political issues, and design approaches to overcome them

During the environmental review for the North I-25 project in Colorado (Case #3), CDOT recognized that concern about a new immigration law might be keeping the Hispanic/Latino immigrant communities from actively engaging in the public process. Since communities shied away from a public forum, other methods of public outreach were used; such as, small meetings in the neighborhoods, dissemination of information through newsletters, postings at local businesses and gathering spaces, and identification of local leaders who could collect and report feedback.

Use a high-touch/low-touch approach to disseminate information

Most of the projects highlighted in the case studies used a wide variety of methods for reaching out to the public. For the I-70 East project (Case #6), this was called a "high-touch/low-touch" approach. A high-touch approach means that meeting reminders and project information are provided in more than one way. Whereas, for some non-environmental justice populations, an email blast or a flyer (low-touch approaches) may do; for the environmental justice population in the study area, it was determined best to post project or project-meeting information at various locations, such as recreational centers, churches, barber shops, beauty salons, etc., to encourage dissemination of information through word of mouth.

Use a micro to macro outreach strategy

A variety of techniques were used to ensure meaningful involvement of the community for both the I-70 East project (Case #6) and the Business 40 project (Case #9). For both projects, the outreach process was designed to be personal and extensive. It began on a one-on-one level and then expanded to bring together the many interests in the corridor. The process started with door-to-door surveys in affected neighborhoods (which were also predominantly low income and minority) then expanded into block meetings, neighborhood meetings, and corridor-wide meetings.

Design and conduct meetings for maximum participation

Meetings were designed to make participants comfortable for both the I-70 East project (Case #6) and the Business 40 project (Case #9). Some of the methods used in these projects were:

Break-out sessions were effective for the Newtown Pike Extension project (Case #8). For the numerous public meetings held throughout the environmental study for this project, small discussion groups or "break-out" sessions were found to be especially effective as they helped to foster a less intimidating environment and encourage more openness on the part of the residents. Residents were encouraged to gather in neighborhood-defined groups during these break-out sessions to discuss issues and provide input to the planning process.

Consider using surveys to gather direct input on specific topics

Door-to-door surveys informed the I-70 East (Case #6) and Business 40 (Case #9) projects. These surveys were used in neighborhoods that would be directly impacted. Practical aspects of conducting those surveys included:

Surveys given at an impacted location informed the Alston Avenue project in North Carolina (Case #1). Short surveys were conducted orally to gather information about how the Los Primos Supermarket was used by the community. Surveys were conducted at the supermarket and at other community service centers.

Both the CIA and the Southend Park Urban Village Plan prepared as part of the Newtown Pike Extension project (Case #8) used community surveys to profile residents and community relationships. Development of the Urban Village Plan also included a household survey focused on assessing housing needs and housing affordability. Types of questions in the CIA survey included: length of residency, whether family lives in the neighborhood, likes and dislikes about the neighborhood, important community resources, mode of transportation to work, and familiarity with the project. In 2006, an additional survey was conducted as part of a social needs assessment, aimed at better understanding met and unmet needs of Southend Park area residents. The project team, under the supervision of an urban anthropologist, interviewed every person living in the Southend Park area. Questions were open-ended and respondents were encouraged to provide an oral history of the area. The interviews were recorded, but kept confidential with only the anthropologist reviewing the content. This process gave neighbors who might have been shy in other settings a real voice, it allowed team members to really know the neighbors they interviewed and, as a result, personal bonds developed. A business survey was also conducted with businesses in and near the project area to better understand the potential impacts of the Newtown Pike Extension on local businesses.

Seek and apply information from similar situations

An Accelerated Construction Technology Transfer (ACTT) conference guided the approach used for the Business 40 project (Case #9). The initial public outreach and the resulting decision to close Business 40 for 2 years during construction may have been different without the ACTT conference convened at the outset of the project. Hearing effective practices from experts who had applied them in similar situations across the country provided critical help for NCDOT to conduct this project in a new and extraordinary way that diverged from the agency's standard operating procedures.

Early planning phases informed project development for the SR 520: I-5 to Medina project (Case #10). WSDOT utilized outcomes of outreach and research conducted early during the project to inform outreach to low-income and minority populations for later project phases. WSDOT has capitalized on information gained through the earlier public outreach and environmental analysis to inform its ongoing public-outreach program for the SR 520 program. For example, based on the demographic profile of the travelshed study area, WSDOT also translated information about electronic tolling into multiple languages.

Establish a community-outreach process feedback loop

For the I-70 East project (Case #6), representatives from local jurisdictions, as well as business owners and members of the public including representatives from environmental justice communities, attended a Community Outreach Process Forum. The purpose of the forum was to solicit insights and suggestions on how to improve the community-outreach process. As a result of the forum, the study team began posting working-group minutes on the project website.

Communicate project benefits to the public and use input from the public in project decisions to gain support

A marketing and education plan designed to share the benefits of the Middle Harbor Redevelopment project (Case #2) was important for community support and eventual approval. Early on in the environmental review process for the project, the POLB Communications Division devised a marketing plan with focused strategies and tactics based on the level of education needed among various target audiences, and focused key objectives to help concentrate outreach efforts. Through the intensive outreach activities to educate area residents and businesses, neighborhood groups, environmental activists, and port tenants, among other groups, the project was approved unanimously by the Board of Harbor Commissions on April 13, 2009, with overwhelming public support and testimony. The Long Beach City Council, which just years earlier had denied the approval of another major development project at the POLB, also voted unanimously to let the project proceed. Additionally, the POLB learned through the Middle Harbor outreach efforts, that the community is becoming more sophisticated and more interested in port projects. As a result of the Middle Harbor Project, the POLB is doing more outreach on other development projects, and have learned the value and need to be thorough in outreach activities, including "getting the word out" about POLB projects and activities, trying to reach as many people as possible.

Broad community support set the stage for local agency participation, partnerships, and commitment to implementation of the North I-25 project (Case #3). Extensive outreach was conducted to obtain consensus on a Preferred Alternative among the 45 communities and agencies (including CDOT and FHWA) for the North I-25 project. Extensive public outreach was conducted because of the need for broad community support and limited financial resources available for transportation improvements in the region. Broad community support is also more likely to attract funding.

Principle #3: Identifying Disproportionately High and Adverse Effects

Recommendations from FHWA's 2011 "Guidance on Environmental Justice in NEPA"

As per FHWA Order 6640.23, a disproportionately high and adverse effect on a minority or low-income population means the adverse effect is predominantly borne by such population or is appreciably more severe or greater in magnitude on the minority or low-income population than the adverse effect suffered by the non-minority or non-low-income population.

(1) Environmental justice considerations should be summarized in the appropriate section of the NEPA document, such as the social-economic section of the environmental consequences chapter. References to other sections in the NEPA document can be cited, as appropriate. The beneficial and adverse effects on the overall population, and on minority and low-income populations in particular, need to be addressed under the applicable topics such as air, noise, water pollution, hazardous waste, aesthetic values, community cohesion, economic vitality, employment effects, displacement of persons or businesses, farms, accessibility, traffic congestion, relocation impacts, safety, and construction/temporary impacts.

(2) Compare the impacts on the minority and/or low-income populations with respect to the impacts on the overall population within the project area. Fair distribution of the beneficial and adverse effects of the proposed action is the desired outcome.

(3) Under NEPA, consideration must be given to mitigation (as defined in 40 CFR 1508.20) for all adverse effects regardless of the type of population affected. Discuss what measures are being considered for alternatives to avoid or mitigate the adverse effects. Follow the protocol of avoidance first, then minimization, and finally measures to offset or rectify the adverse effects. Using opportunities to enhance and increase sustainability in communities and neighborhoods is desirable. Any activity that demonstrates sensitivity to special needs should be highlighted, such as accommodations for transit dependency or addressing the need for translators.

(4) If the effects remain adverse after mitigation is considered, then a determination must be made whether those effects are disproportionately high and adverse with respect to minority and/or low-income populations. If the effects on minority and/or low-income populations are disproportionately high and adverse even with mitigation and benefits to those populations taken into account, the next section must be followed.

(5) If there are no disproportionately high and adverse effects on minority and/or low-income populations once mitigation and benefits are considered, that determination should be stated in the document and the environmental justice evaluation is complete.

Effective Practices from the Case Studies

The projects highlighted in the case studies confirm that determining when projects have a disproportionately high and adverse effect on low-income or minority populations remains one of the more challenging aspects of the environmental justice analysis. The case study summaries and detailed cases available on FHWA's Environmental Justice website provide a description of the methods used in each case for the wide range of issues addressed. Some of the practices or approaches that were found to be effective are featured here.

Work closely with other jurisdictional agencies and partners

Close coordination with jurisdictional agencies supported the analysis of cumulative air-quality impacts for the Middle Harbor Redevelopment project (Case #10). Cumulative impacts for air quality were a particular concern to the environmental justice community surrounding the project. The lead agency coordinates many of their programs with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), the EPA, and others. POLB also provides information for and participates in most of the regional planning studies conducted by CARB, SCAQMD, EPA, and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). This close coordination supported the use of a recent CARB study for the analysis of cumulative impacts for air quality.

Working closely with both the FHWA and the City of Durham through each step of the environmental study for the Alston Avenue project (Case #1) resulted in better solutions and environmental approvals. Keeping FHWA "plugged in" was critical for approval of final project decisions and the call of whether impacts on the environmental justice community were disproportionately high and adverse. The Alston Avenue area is a focus for many City departments that work on economic development, infrastructure, community building, appearance, historic preservation, and other community improvement activities. The City of Durham was able to provide local insight about the needs and values of the community. In addition, they provided extensive input into design modifications that would make the project sensitive to the community needs and context, and acted as an advocate for the Hispanic/Latino segment of the population when that population did not fully participate in outreach activities. The discussions generated by the environmental justice issue within the City increased dialogue among City departments; such as, Economic and Workforce Development, Neighborhood Improvement Services, and Planning. It was important for NCDOT to work with the City to be a part of these discussions and ensure that the resulting project decision was consistent with their efforts and goals.

Interagency collaboration guided mitigation decisions for the I-16/I-75 project (Case #7). Collaboration between FHWA, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) was important for development of appropriate mitigation for the Pleasant Hill Historic District impacted by the I‑16/I‑75 project. FHWA strongly supported community concerns and recognized the relevance of past impacts from I-75 on the community. FHWA's presence in community meetings and frequent interaction with the project team gave GDOT and the community the confidence and stimulus to correct prior impacts from a past State project. GDOT engaged the community of Pleasant Hill to a greater extent than it was used to.

Government-to-government coordination with Native American tribes for the SR 520: I-5 to Medina project (Case #10) was critical to understanding potential project impacts and appropriate mitigation. The important cultural and fishery resources within the I-5 to Medina project study area created a need for very close coordination with area tribes. Working with tribes through a government-to-government relationship was critical for the project team to understand and characterize potential impacts of the project on the tribes and to define and come to agreement on measures that would avoid, minimize, and mitigate those impacts.

The determination of adverse impacts is context sensitive - Use public input to understand how the project and impacts will be perceived and to guide the analysis

For the North I-25 project (Case #3), early input gathered on what is important to the environmental justice communities was used to determine what would be perceived as a disproportionately high and adverse impact-and to design a better project. The local agencies and communities were involved in data gathering at the local level. Different types of techniques were used to gain input and provide more information about the project: surveys, small meetings, setting up project information booths at cultural events, presentations to city councils, and public meetings and hearings. Through meetings and newsletters, the project team was able to both provide information on what the project impacts and benefits were to the community and also learn from the community what they thought was an impact and benefit. This feedback helped the team identify issues that were important to environmental justice communities and benefits that would outweigh impacts. For example, while relocation is typically considered to be an adverse impact that uproots individuals and families from their communities, in the case of this project, being relocated from an existing location near a freeway or rail line was perceived as a positive impact.

For the SR-520: I-5 to Medina project (Case #10), concerns raised through public outreach shaped the depth and breadth of analysis. Community-concerns about tolling impacts on environmental justice populations helped to guide the analysis of the tolling component of the project. Specifically, because of the input provided by social-service organizations and advocates for low-income populations regarding the equity of tolling: (1) the environmental justice analysis addressed the topic of equity of tolling in great detail, and even included research as to how this topic has been addressed in other parts of the country for comparable programs; and (2) additional outreach specific to tolling effects on the Evergreen Point Bridge travelshed study area was included as part of the Final EIS. The tolling analyses conducted for the project as part of the various environmental documents, from the 2006 Draft EIS to the 2011 FEIS, was critical. Further, the analysis contributed to the development of mitigation measures to help address the impacts of tolling on low-income individuals.

For any potential environmental justice issue, base the determination of impacts on complete analysis and current information

In the early stages of the environmental analysis for the Alston Avenue project (Case #1) the NCDOT did not recognize the Los Primos Supermarket as an environmental justice resource and its potential loss as a disproportionately high and adverse impact on the community. While the issue was raised by the City of Durham, feedback from the public did not elevate the issue at the time and much attention was focused on the Durham Rescue Mission, the Few Gardens housing development project, and other issues. Ongoing coordination with the City of Durham, ensuring demographic data and community context information was updated, and ensuring all perspectives were heard helped NCDOT recognize that there may be more of an issue associated with the grocery store than initially recognized. NCDOT commissioned a detailed study of the potential impact, including surveys, a thorough site-comparison analysis, outreach through community leaders, and seeking "on the street" input using LEP resources. The analysis demonstrated that removal of Los Primos Supermarket would result in a disproportionately high and adverse impact on the low-income and Hispanic/Latino community in the project study area.

The NCDOT also found that it was necessary to update the CIA over the course of the Alston Avenue project to understand changing community characteristics and new project information. In North Carolina, the CIA is treated as an ongoing analysis. For the Alston Avenue project, the NCDOT prepared a CIA early in the study process, and supplemented it as further information was gathered about the community and public input was received. This approach resulted in several supplements to the initial CIA. Since that time, North Carolina has updated its approach. Now a "Community Characteristics Report" is drafted early in project development to inform subsequent public involvement, analysis, and determination of impacts.

Consider impacts on community facilities and mobility needs

During the North I-25 project (Case #3) feedback received during outreach to environmental justice communities was that they were concerned about impacts on community facilities frequented by them. It was important to look beyond impacts on residential areas and consider impacts on schools, places of worship, parks, health centers, and businesses frequented by an environmental justice community. Impacts on these communities through relocation or change in access, would affect the community that relies on these facilities.

When identifying mobility needs, the project team considered where community members need to go-employment, community centers, etc. Since car ownership is low within low-income populations, these populations rely more heavily on other modes of transportation. They use public transit for all their access needs from going to work, to a place of worship, a health center, and schools. Public transit facilities need to connect residential areas to employment centers, and community venues. Conceptual design for public transit stations considered the needs of people with disabilities, such as people in wheelchairs and people who are blind but walk with a guide dog or white cane.

Proper identification and characterization of social ties is important for the identification of adverse impacts on communities

In the case of the Newtown Pike Extension (Case #8), the project team went beyond using neighborhoods as the geographic area of reference for identification of environmental justice populations and for characterization of disproportionately high and adverse impacts. The interactions and interdependence between neighbors are an important factor in determining the geographic extent of impacts and in understanding the impacts of displacement on the social cohesion of communities and the importance of keeping communities together. The project team found it important to understand the characteristics of a community within the Davistown neighborhood: the area referred to as Davis Bottom, lower Davistown, and Southend Park area. This area had been identified in transportation plans as being a minority and low-income population. To understand the extent of interdependence within neighborhoods or within areas of neighborhoods, the Newtown Pike Extension project team conducted a CIA in 2003 and surveyed the Southend Park area in 2005. These studies generated information about the area not available through Census data, because some of the data was not collected at the geographic level needed to characterize sub areas of the neighborhood (e.g., poverty data for the Southend Park area) and because the type of data needed to understand community cohesion and define community boundaries is not typically collected by Census instruments. This care with properly identifying and characterizing interdependent communities allowed the project team to better understand the extent to which the Newtown Pike Extension would have disproportionately high and adverse impacts on the Southend Park area when compared to other communities.

Consider benefits and mitigation in the overall harm assessment

The North I-25 (Case #3) project team fully considered the totality of impacts and benefits; that is, they carefully identified benefits and mitigation and included those in the analysis of whether there are disproportionately high and adverse impacts. In the SR 520: I-5 to Medina project (Case #10), the benefit of the project to the overall population and mitigation for any negative impacts were also taken into consideration in the determination that there would not be disproportionately high and adverse impacts on environmental justice populations.

Have the staff working closely with the community make a recommendation regarding impacts and next steps

The first CIA completed for the Alston Avenue project (Case #1) was informational and did not include a recommendation as to whether potential impacts on the environmental justice community would be disproportionately high and adverse. Over the course of the study, the NCDOT made changes overall in how CIAs were conducted and reported. In the supplements to the initial CIA, a "call" was made as to whether impacts were disproportionately high and adverse, and recommendations for next steps were documented. This is a positive shift in that it puts the judgment of impacts in the hands of the individuals who are most familiar with the project and the surrounding community.

Work with the State DOT and the community to identify and ensure implementation of appropriate mitigation

Representatives of the Pleasant Hill neighborhood recognized early on that the proposed modifications to the I-16/I‑75 Interchange project (Case #7) would improve traffic safety, and focused on the minimization and mitigation of impacts rather than on opposing the project itself. The mitigation plan was developed with input from the neighborhood in several meetings, where neighborhood representatives had the opportunity to provide feedback on draft mitigation plans proposed by the State DOT and FHWA and suggest alternative measures. The initial 1999-project concept went through several rounds of modifications thanks to this process, and several elements from the neighborhood's own plan were incorporated into the mitigation plan. To ensure that the mitigation plan would be implemented and the final EA would transmit this assurance, the Pleasant Hill Historic District and Community Mitigation Plan was included as an appendix to the final environmental assessment and signed by representatives of transportation and community organizations.

Identify strategies to address all impacts

For the I-16/I-75 project (Case #7), the project team made sure to develop mitigation measures to address not just direct and indirect impacts but also cumulative impacts from the construction of I-75 decades before the project. As stated in the EA: "In mitigating impacts of the current I-16/I-75 Interchange Improvement project on the Pleasant Hill neighborhood, efforts will be made to address impacts caused by the original construction of I-75 through the neighborhood. Though the mitigation efforts today cannot undo past damage to the community, the proposed project will attempt to counter those impacts that can be reasonably addressed." Similarly, a major component of the Ambassador Bridge Gateway project (Case #4), the Bagley Pedestrian Bridge, responded to a project need to mitigate impacts from a previous transportation project.

Use creative solutions and consider community enhancement as methods for mitigating project impacts

The project team for the Newtown Pike Extension project (Case #8) found a solution that addressed displacements and community cohesion. The team understood that Southend Park residents had the desire to remain in the area, that they lived in a tight community, and that they were interdependent on each other for their daily needs. The main challenge in offering the community a feasible option to remain in the area was to guarantee affordable housing. The choice of a land trust was a way of achieving housing affordability. By not owning the land, only the house, the housing costs would be reduced for residents. Use of the land would be guaranteed by a renewable 99-year lease. The choice did find some resistance by residents. The idea of not owning the land, particularly for resident owners that had previously owned their land, was not an easy idea to accept. However, residents had a voice and a role in helping develop the redevelopment plan to address their concerns and gradually increased their acceptance of the proposed mitigation.

In the case of the Ambassador Bridge Gateway project (Case #4), an enhancement project served to bring a community together. The Bagley Street Pedestrian Bridge and the associated public art projects were designed specifically as community enhancement components. The public was involved in every aspect of the projects, including defining the need for the bridge, selecting an artist, providing input for the artwork, and celebrating the unveiling.

Updated: 2/4/2013
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