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An Overview of Transportation and Environmental Justice

"No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

"Each Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations."

- Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, 1994

The need to consider environmental justice is already embodied in many laws, regulations, and policies such as:

-Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

-National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA)

-Section 109( h) of Title 23

-The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (URA), as amended

-The Transportation Equity Act for the 21 st Century (TEA-21)

-Other U.S. DOT statutes and regulations.

A PDF file of the printed version of this brochure is also available - ej2000.pdf - 483KB

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May 2000

Safety and mobility are two of the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT's) top priorities. Achieving environmental justice is another undeniable mission of the agency.

A 1994 Presidential Executive Order directed every Federal agency to make environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing the effects of all programs, policies, and activities on "minority populations and low-income populations." The DOT's environmental justice initiatives accomplish this goal by involving the potentially affected public in developing transportation projects that fit harmoniously within their communities without sacrificing safety or mobility.

Environmental justice and Title VI are not new concerns. Today, because of the evolution of the transportation planning process, they are receiving greater emphasis. Effective transportation decision making depends upon understanding and properly addressing the unique needs of different socioeconomic groups. This is more than a desktop exercise; it requires involving the public. The U.S. DOT is committed to this more comprehensive, inclusive approach. These changes make sure that every transportation project nationwide considers the human environment. Use the information in this brochure to learn how to promote environmental justice and ensure nondiscrimination in your community.

Photo: a man and a woman working on the streetscape plan

Context-Sensitive Design: Harlem Gateway Corridor, New York. Transportation Enhancement Program funds help the Harlem community participate in a design process that improves the public streetscape through new lighting, tree planting, pedestrian-friendly design, and murals celebrating the community's cultural heritage.

There are three fundamental environmental justice principles:

No. The recipients of Federal-aid have been required to certify and the U.S. DOT must ensure nondiscrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and many other laws, regulations, and policies. In 1997, the Department issued its DOT Order to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations to summarize and expand upon the requirements of Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice.

Environmental justice is more than a set of legal and regulatory obligations. Properly implemented, environmental justice principles and procedures improve all levels of transportation decision making. This approach will:

Photo: a mason working on a large mosaic in a street intersection

Successful Transit Partnership: El Paso, Texas. As part of FTA's Livable Community Initiative, Sun Metro is undertaking a major transit-oriented development to revitalize the El Paso empowerment zone. Sun Metro is using TEA-21 flexible funding, HUD Community Development Block Grants, and local-government and private-sector funding.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued Policy Directive 15, Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity, in 1997, establishing five minimum categories for data on race. Executive Order 12898 and the DOT and FHWA Orders on Environmental Justice address persons belonging to any of the following groups:

Black - a person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.

Hispanic - a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.

Asian - a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent.

American Indian and Alaskan Native - a person having origins in any of the original people of North America and who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community recognition.

Low-Income - a person whose household income (or in the case of a community or group, whose median household income) is at or below the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services poverty guidelines.

Note: OMB, in its Bulletin No. 00-02, "Guidance on Aggregation and Allocation of Data on Race for Use in Civil Rights Monitoring and Enforcement," issued March 9, 2000, provided guidance on the way Federal agencies collect and use aggregate data on race. Added to the previous standard delineations of race/ethnicity was the category of:

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander - a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.

Yes. Concern for environmental justice should be integrated into every transportation decision - from the first thought about a transportation plan to post-construction operations and maintenance. The U.S. DOT Order applies to all policies, programs, and other activities that are undertaken, funded, or approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), or other U.S. DOT components:

Federal agencies, State DOTs, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), and transit providers advance Title VI and environmental justice by involving the public in transportation decisions. Effective public involvement programs enable transportation professionals to develop systems, services, and solutions that meet the needs of the public, including minority and low-income communities. There are many excellent examples of transportation initiatives that successfully integrate environmental justice principles. Partners and stakeholders can use these successes to champion the opportunities and responsibilities that Title VI and environmental justice present.

Photo: Tulalip Tribes community center

Tulalip Tribal Model Partnership Listening Session. In 1998, FHWA held a nationwide series of community workshops - planned, coordinated, and conducted by community organizations and environmental justice groups - to address the transportation challenges facing minority and low-income populations.

Federal Agencies - FHWA and FTA staff will continue to work with State DOTs, MPOs, transit providers, and other local agencies to ensure Title VI and environmental justice considerations are integral to all surface transportation activities. In addition to making sure that Federal transportation regulations and policies affirm and reinforce nondiscrimination, Federal staff will take other important actions to:

State DOTs - are at the heart of planning, design, construction, and operations and maintenance projects across all travel modes. They allocate resources from various Federal-aid programs. State DOTs successfully integrate Title VI and environmental justice into their activities when they:

MPOs - serve as the primary forum where State DOTs, transit providers, local agencies, and the public develop local transportation plans and programs that address a metropolitan area's needs. MPOs can help local public officials understand how Title VI and environmental justice requirements improve planning and decision making. To certify compliance with Title VI and address environmental justice, MPOs need to:

Photo: Street arch in Chinatown Philadelphia

Innovative Mitigation Measures: Philadelphia, Chinatown. As part of the Vine Street Expressway project, PennDOT, the FHWA Pennsylvania Division, city government, and local planning and development agencies designed innovative mitigation measures to preserve community cohesion and economic vitality in a century-old community of ethnic Chinese.

Transit Providers- offer mobility for all citizens whether they own a vehicle or not. They provide an essential service for many low-income and minority populations who have no other way to get to work, shopping, child care, medical appointments, recreation, or other destinations. Transit agencies support Title VI and environmental justice principles when they:

The Public - Transportation agencies cannot fully meet community needs without the active participation of well-informed, empowered individuals, community groups, and other nongovernmental organizations such as businesses and academic institutions. These individuals and groups advance the letter, spirit, and intent of Title VI and environmental justice in transportation when they:

For information on resources, technical assistance, publications, and DOT contacts, explore this EJ web site:

Additional contact information:

Federal Highway Administration
Office of Human Environment
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
East Building, 7th Floor
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: (202) 366-0106
Web Site:

Federal Transit Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
East Building, 4th Floor
Office of Planning & Environment
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: (202) 366-6385
Web Site:

A PDF file of the printed version of this brochure is also available - ej2000.pdf (483KB)

This is an electronic version of
Publication No. FHWA-EP-00-013

Updated: 12/12/2012
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