Community Impact Assessment is a process that helps us understand how a proposed transportation activity may impact the local communities and the individuals within them. This process needs to begin at the earliest stages of the project and should be carried on throughout the decision-making. Environmental Justice is closely related and seeks to ensure that the proposed transportation activity will:
- Avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects, including social and economic effects, on minority populations and low-income populations;
- Ensure the full and fair participation by all potentially affected communities in the transportation decision-making process; and
- Prevent the denial of, reduction in, or significant delay in the receipt of benefits by minority and low-income populations.
So, why is MoDOT concerned about how its projects may impact the local community? To begin with, MoDOT has acknowledged in its mission statement that our aim is “world-class transportation,” and for it to promote “a prosperous Missouri” and that can’t happen if our projects leave the local community in worse shape after the project is built than it was in before. If a new road or just a wider road is needed, its pretty much a guarantee that some new right-of-way will be needed and that new right-of-way will have to come from someone, but with careful study, the best design will have the least negative impacts on the community involved. Probably the biggest goal in community impact assessment is to help ensure that all segments of the community has the opportunity to let their interests and concerns be considered. And yes, there are numerous laws, regulations and policies that must be followed. These include a variety that have been put into place to protect citizens from discrimination involving race, color, national origin, age, handicap/disability, religion, or economic status.
By far, the impacts from the majority of MoDOT’s transportation projects are very minor as far as community impact assessment and environmental justice is concerned. While it can provide a major benefit to the traveling public, a resurfacing project or a minor widening project is unlikely to result in “disproportionately high and adverse impacts on any protected populations.” On the other hand, those same projects can enhance community life (for example: it can result in improved response time by emergency services).
However, the true benefit is for the local community to get the best value for each and every dollar spent on transportation and that value must be based on far more than just the construction of the road itself. In addition to affecting the emergency response time, the community impact assessment should consider things like:
- Will the project isolate portions of the community?
- Will this project encourage new businesses to move into the area or influence existing businesses to close or relocate?
- How will the project affect the tax base or property values?
- Will this project result in the loss of farmland or cause residents or businesses to be displaced?
- Does the project affect non-motorist access to businesses, public schools, and other facilities?
- Has aesthetics been previously identified as a community concern?