127.3 Community Impact Assessment

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127.3.1 Discussion

127.3.1.1 Overview

Transportation investments have major influences on society, with potentially significant economic and social consequences. The community impact assessment process alerts affected communities and residents, as well as transportation decision-makers, to the likely consequences of a project, and ensures that human values and concerns receive proper attention during project development. Specifically, community impact assessment is important for:

Table 127.3.1.1, Community Impact Assessment Values
Quality of Life A high-quality standard of living for all Americans means we must protect the essential elements of existence, including neighborhoods and community values. Community impacts assessment supports sustainable, livable communities; promotes community values and thriving neighborhoods; and contributes to general well-being.
Responsive Decision-making Assessing community impacts helps ensure that transportation policies and investments embrace the concerns of neighborhoods, communities, and society. Understanding the relationship between transportation actions and community life helps minimize conflict and promotes the resolution of potential problems. Actively involving affected parties leads to better decisions and greater project acceptance, while creating a sense of community ownership and enhancing agency credibility.
Coordination Community impact assessment helps coordinate and integrate independent plans for land use, economics, and transportation to achieve common goals. This process aids communities in meeting state and local regulations and policies, such as zoning ordinances, environmental quality regulations, growth management and adequate public facilities and services, legislation, and comprehensive planning.
Nondiscrimination Community impact assessment ensures that we act on our obligation to achieve environmental justice through practices and procedures that do not discriminate. It alerts decision-makers to the effects to all segments of society and the potential for disproportionately high adverse effects to protected populations and others related to age, sex, disability.


A “protected” population is one that refers to groups specifically protected by additional regulations such as Title VI, Executive Order 12898 on EJ, etc.

Community impact assessment is a process for evaluating the effects of a transportation action on a community and its quality of life. The assessment process is an integral part of project planning and development that shapes the outcome of a project. The information obtained is used to continuously make improvements to the project and provide documentation of the current and anticipated social environment of a geographic area with and without action. The assessment is to examine all topics of importance to people, such as mobility, safety, employment effects, relocation, isolation, and other community issues.

127.3.1.2 Laws, Regulations, and Executive Orders (EO)

In addition to the practical reasons for community impact assessment, multiple major federal regulations, statutes, policies, and Executive Orders legally require and support it.

  • Intermodal Surface Transportations Efficiency Act of 1991 (EO 13166 on Limited English Proficiency)
  • National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA)
  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related statutes
  • 23 USC 109(h), Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1970
  • 23 CFR 771, Environmental Impact and Related Procedures (1987)
  • Executive Order (EO) 12898 on Environmental Justice (1994) and proposed Department of Transportation Order on Environmental Justice (1996)
  • Farmland Protection Policy Act (1981), as amended in 1994 (7 CFR 658)
  • Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act (1970, referred to as the “Uniform Act”), as amended in 1987
  • FHWA Environmental Policy Statements (1990 & 1994)
  • Recommendations of the President's Council on Sustainable Development

FHWA guidance for the practitioner on community impact assessment includes:

127.3.1.3 Process

Community impact assessment is integral to the entire project development and decision-making process. For example, the assessment of community impacts, along with other relevant environmental impact studies, helps shape project decisions and outcomes within the NEPA process. The assessment provides critical information about community values to formulate project objectives and the development of alternatives.

Throughout project decision-making and until construction, the Environmental specialist helps to ensure that consequences to the social fabric of an area are given consideration with other environmental impacts. The specialist plays an important role on the project development team to ensure community values are supported.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice apply to federal activities. Compliance with the FHWA’s NEPA process will accomplish appropriate implementation of Title VI and EO 12898. This process includes fully identifying social, economic, and environmental effects; considering alternatives; coordinating with agencies; involving the public; and using a systematic interdisciplinary approach. Addressing the issues coupled with full implementation of 23 USC 109(h) (e.g., community cohesion, availability of public facilities and services, adverse employment effects, etc.) will prevent the potential for discrimination or disproportionately high and adverse impacts to protected populations. Community impact assessment is key to this preventive approach.

Although the assessment of community impacts rarely follows a fixed, predictable series of steps, there is a basic logic behind the assessment process, which incorporates the following components:

Define the Project Study Area

In coordination with district engineers, develop various project alternatives that satisfy the project purpose and need and identify areas of potential impact.

Develop a Community Profile

Determine the characteristics of the affected area, such as neighborhood boundaries, locations of residences and businesses, demographic information, economic data, social history of communities, and land use plans.

Analyze Impacts

Examine the impacts to the community by the proposed action versus no action. Identify and investigate the consequences of the proposed transportation action.

Identify Solutions

Identify and recommend potential solutions to address adverse impacts. Techniques include avoidance, minimization, mitigation, and enhancement.

Use Public Involvement

Use public participation as a basis to develop project alternatives, a source of information to develop the community profile, a tool to identify and evaluate impacts, and a method to identify acceptable ways to address impacts. Public involvement is an integral element of all the above steps.

Document Findings

In addition to oral presentations, prepare the findings of the community impact assessment in written form for use by decision-makers, to record findings, to disseminate to interested parties, and to support subsequent decisions. These findings shall be documented in the Request for Environmental Services (RES) form for the project.

Iterative Process

Communities are dynamic and constantly changing. As options change, or new information is gathered, the Environmental specialist must appropriately re-evaluate and adjust findings, particularly if there are substantial time lapses in project development.

Although the steps in the community impact assessment process are logically sequential, they overlap in practice. The assessment process is iterative in that specialists must be prepared to revisit prior steps and be aware of future steps in conducting the assessment. In the early steps when helping to frame the project and community profile, the community impact specialist must think about the probable relationships between the project and the community so that relevant data are collected. Later, if new impacts are identified or decisions are made, the specialist must go back to the community profile and gather additional information or data regarding populations affected.

127.3.2 Project Development Milestones

127.3.2.1 Location/Conceptual Plan Stage

At the location/conceptual plan stage, design division environmental staff use various tools and databases to screen the project but may also contact local entities and/or district staff to determine whether they have any concerns with the project or additional information that may help in the project review. Initial data collection involves gathering general information. The Specialist uses accepted databases related to these community resources and contacts district personnel, as needed, to determine the likelihood that the project will have a negative impact on the community.

The district initiates this process by submitting a RES to the design division for every project. For projects that require an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the design division and the district will determine when to begin this process since an RES is not submitted for those projects until later in the NEPA process. The district may be required to gather and submit additional information about the project at this stage. Findings pertinent to the project will be relayed to the district in the RES response and through core team participation.

127.3.2.1.1 Impact Assessment

Community Impact Assessment Data List
Population and Demographic Characteristics
Historical background
▪ Trends in population growth and demographics
▪ Ethnicity and race
▪ Languages spoken
▪ Age and gender distributions
▪ Income levels
▪ Educational attainment
▪ Employment status
▪ Community Impact Assessment population subgroups, such as disabled persons
▪ Indian tribal governments, as appropriate
Economic and Community Impact Assessment History/Characteristics
▪ Community historical background and context
▪ Community values and issues (e.g., security and solitude)
▪ Economic base (e.g., agriculture, manufacturing, and service)
▪ Property values
▪ Tax base
▪ Other economic characteristics (e.g., port city, tourism base, and lumber town)
Physical Characteristics Relating to Community Activities
▪ Community centers/activity centers
▪ Infrastructure (e.g., roads, transit, and water and sewage systems)
▪ Public services and facilities (e.g., schools, police, fire, libraries, and hospitals)
▪ Land-use plans and zoning
▪ Community Impact Assessment areas, historic districts, and parklands
▪ Businesses
▪ Housing (e.g., availability, age, and type)
▪ Planned and approved future development
▪ Community focal points or informal meeting places (e.g., places of worship, playgrounds, hair salons, and laundromats)

Data sources include:

Contact Points
Source Primary Uses
Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) Economic base, land-use and zoning plans, and area planning history
State and local government planning and community impact assessment service departments/agencies Economic base, land-use and zoning plans, taxing districts, Community Impact Assessment and economic programs and business, and marketing information
State employment agencies or labor departments Employment trends, unemployment rates, and economic base
State, local, and university libraries (for local newspaper clippings and other local sources) General information, community historical background, economic base, and business and marketing information
Local historical societies and State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) Community historical background and location of historic structures, landmarks, and districts

Data collected include:

Table 127.3.2.1.1, Data Collections and Activities
Source Primary Uses
U.S. Census Bureau publications and statistical abstracts using EJScreen Population trends and demographics, economic indicators, and housing
Aerial maps and road maps Community boundaries and physical characteristics; location of activity centers, infrastructure, houses and businesses
Field or windshield surveys and reviews Locations and numbers of structures and activity patterns
Interviews and public involvement with businesses, community leaders, and residents Community values and issues
More sources and uses can be found at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/livability/cia/quick_reference/index.cfm

For all projects, the Environmental specialist, district project team, and/or consultant team will ensure that any comments concerning potential impacts to the community solicited from local entities through the public involvement process are addressed. The impact assessment process described previously must be initiated prior to alternatives development and is to be used to guide that development. This activity fulfills the NEPA requirements relating to the selection of alternatives and the information obtained is used in the EA, EIS, PCE or documented Categorical Exclusion (CE2) documentation.

Refer to Table 127.3.2.1.1, Data Collections and Activities, for examples of the types of data collected and incorporated into environmental documents.

127.3.2.1.2 Addressing Adverse Impacts

When adverse community impacts are identified, the Environmental specialist will propose potential methods for addressing them through mitigation. This step of the community impact assessment process involves problem-solving and generating solutions. There are four primary methods to address impacts, which are considered in the order listed below.

Avoidance

Alter the project so an impact does not occur.

Minimization

Modify the project to reduce the severity of an impact.

Mitigation

Undertake an action to alleviate or offset an impact or to replace an appropriated resource.

Enhancement

Add a desirable or attractive feature to the project to make it fit more harmoniously into the community. It is not intended to replace lost resources or alleviate impacts caused by the project.

Project design options are typically based on an ideal engineering standard. When adverse community impacts are identified, specialists will:

  • Work with the project development team to identify design or engineering options to deal with these impacts—starting with avoidance and then moving on to minimization and mitigation techniques.
  • Consider enhancement opportunities that are a reasonable expenditure of public funds and help the project fit harmoniously into the community.

Community impact specialists should recognize that an effort to address one impact may create other adverse impacts. Specialists must consider the potential impacts of these measures on the community, ensuring that the approaches considered support the purpose and need of the project. Whatever approach is selected, it is important to monitor and follow through on commitments.

Public involvement can provide important information to aid in identifying acceptable solutions to address adverse impacts.

The Categorical Exclusion (PCE and CE2), Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), and Record of Decision (ROD) documents as well as the draft and final EIS must include the avoidance and minimization measures that have been completed as well as the commitments identified during the process to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any adverse impacts which are then carried forward in the bid documents.

Practical examples include:

Avoidance

  • Change an alignment so that there are no displacements.
  • Redesign a road segment as an underpass to avoid cutting off access to a community facility.

Minimization

  • Reroute or shift a highway segment to reduce displacements.
  • Limit interchanges to minimize incompatible land-use development.
  • Phase the project to minimize impedance to business access during peak periods.
  • Alter an alignment to increase the distance between the transportation facilities and residences to minimize noise impacts.

Mitigation

  • Set aside land for a park or add to public recreation areas to replace lost facilities.
  • Erect sound barriers to mitigate noise to surrounding communities.
  • Provide a bicycle/pedestrian overpass or underpass to provide access to public facilities.
  • Provide compensation for properties acquired, a mandatory measure under the Uniform Act Amendments.

Enhancement

  • Provide signage to recognize specific cultural or historic resources.
  • Development bicycle trails or paths adjacent to roadways.
  • Plant trees and add park benches.
  • Add public artwork or a facade to a transportation facility to match the aesthetic design goals of a community.

There are two types of enhancements: 1) Environmental enhancements, which may be added to a transportation project to improve community acceptance (see 1994 FHWA Environmental Policy Statement) and 2) Transportation enhancements, which are funded through a provision of SAFETEA-LU with funds set aside from the Surface Transportation Program.

Environmental enhancements are incorporated into a project as part of routine decision-making to make it more compatible with and sensitive to community needs. Transportation enhancement activities offer communities the opportunity to expand transportation choices with safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities, scenic routes, beautification, and other investments that increase opportunities for recreation, accessibility, and safety for everyone beyond traditional highway programs. Transportation enhancements funding may be available to help meet these needs.

127.3.2.2 Preliminary Plans Stage

If no community impact issues were previously identified, the preliminary plans stage allows specialists to repeat a similar a process as was conducted during the initial project screening. The district initiates this process by submitting an RES to the design division. The environmental specialist screens the project for changes and determines whether any new information has become available since the last screening. Any new findings pertinent to the project will be relayed to the district in the RES response and the environmental specialist will discuss appropriate actions with the project manager.

At this stage, if it has been determined that the project could have an impact on a community, the environmental specialist will continue coordinating with the district to determine and design the necessary solutions. The district will continue to coordinate with the local entities.

127.3.2.3 ROW Plan Stage

At the right-of-way plan stage, if no community impact issues have been previously identified, the process described for earlier stages is repeated. The district initiates this process by submitting an RES to the design division, whereupon the environmental specialist will screen the project for changes and determines whether any new information has become available since the last screening. Any new findings pertinent to the project will be relayed to the district in the RES response and the environmental specialist will discuss appropriate actions with the project manager. If no issues are identified, the district is notified that the community impact assessment issues are clear for this project.

At this stage, if it has been determined that the project could have an adverse impact on a community based on analysis of the community and potential impacts to that community, solutions should begin to be identified or should be underway. The environmental specialist helps the project manager identify impacts and solutions. If the NEPA class has been determined and approval been given, the review may need to be re-evaluated.

127.3.2.4 Final Design Stage

At final design stage, if there have been no community issues identified to date, the process prescribed for earlier stages is repeated. The district submits an RES to the design division and the environmental specialist screens the project for changes and determines whether any new information has become available since the last screening. Any new findings pertinent to the project are relayed to the district in the RES response and the environmental specialist will discuss appropriate actions with the project manager. If no issues are identified, the district is notified that the community impact assessment issues are clear for this project.

Solutions to community impacts that are part of the project design should be finalized at this point and the project manager has committed to them. Any commitments shall be documented in the RES and carried forward by the project manager into bid, letting and award.

127.3.2.5 Bid Opening

Agreements with local entities and design elements that are part of community impact solutions identified as commitments in the NEPA document must be clearly described in the project proposals for accurate bids.

127.3.2.6 Post-Bid Opening Activities

At this stage, commitments made during the design of the project must be communicated to the MoDOT resident engineer (RE) and inspectors prior to construction. All MoDOT REs and inspectors shall be informed of any community issues, requirements, and JSPs carried forward as commitments. Contractors should also be informed of these commitments prior to construction. If MoDOT fails to implement the agreed upon measures, lengthy project delays could result and possible loss of Federal funding.

127.3.3 Maintenance Activities

If agreements with local entities stipulate additional activities required to address community impacts, local maintenance employees will be involved to schedule and implement those special instances.