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Listed below are examples of success stories, best practices, and/or innovative tools/approaches. This section will grow as entries are submitted or links to other sites with useful examples are provided. If you believe your agency has utilized a best practice/approach that others could learn from, please submit a short description to AASHTO (including any pertinent links) on the Share Info with AASHTO form. Please note that currently submissions are only being accepted from governmental entities.

Ohio DOT

Ohio DOT Provides Step-by-Step Guidance for Environmental Justice Analysis

As environmental justice in infrastructure planning and construction continues to be promoted at the federal level, state transportation agencies are finding ways to make the process more defined for staff and consultants.

At the Ohio Department of Transportation, recent revisions to the agency’s environmental justice guidelines update the agency’s procedures with a focus on clarifying the extent of analysis needed for projects and environmental reviews in the state.

Public outreach is an important aspect of environmental justice compliance. This public meeting was held during the planning phase for the Opportunity Corridor project in Cleveland. Photo: Ohio DOT

The ODOT Environmental Justice Guidance uses a step-by-step format to explain what practitioners must do to comply with state and federal environmental justice requirements.

The steps include identifying environmental justice populations within the study area using a mapping tool, answering a series of questions to determine whether a full-scale environmental justice analysis report is required, and if required, conducting the analysis and report as outlined in the guidance.

EJ Process in Ohio

Environmental justice has been a part of the conversation with regard to transportation projects for at least two decades.

Environmental justice populations—specifically minority and low-income groups—can be disproportionately impacted by transportation projects, and these impacts can vary depending on a project’s scale, scope and location, according to Erica Schneider, Assistant Administrator with ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services.

Like all state transportation agencies, ODOT developed its environmental justice program in response to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Presidential Executive Order 12898, Department of Transportation Order 5610.2, and FHWA Order 6640.23A.

ODOT’s environmental justice procedures resulted from many months of work with the Federal Highway Administration’s Ohio Division, Schneider said. “It was a collaborative process that took several months of discussions and a fair amount of compromise,” Schneider said. Once the division office was comfortable with it, ODOT worked with FHWA headquarters and Resource Center, she added.

Identifying EJ Populations

ODOT’s guidance uses a tiered method to evaluate environmental justice considerations. The first step relies on the Environmental Protection Agency’s EJScreen web-based tool, which places U.S. Census population data on a map at the block and block group levels. Block groups are clusters of blocks within the same census tract, generally defined to contain between 600 and 3,000 people, used to present statistical data and control block numbering.

According to the guidance, the individual performing the analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) uses EJView to locate the project or study area and, using the data filters, identifies the percent of minority or low income residents.

“Project [area] limits are identified by earlier studies (traffic, safety, etc.) that define the purpose of the project,” Schneider said. “Those limits in turn help identify the block groups that could be impacted by a project and by the activities associated with the project.”

The key threshold for environmental justice populations is 40 percent, according to the guidance. “If all of the block groups within your proposed project area indicate Environmental Justice populations below 40%, then no additional Environmental Justice analysis or coordination is required,” the guidance said.

However, if either the minority or the low-income populations are at 40 percent or above, the practitioner is required to answer a set of questions to determine potential impacts.

Determining Potential Impacts

The questions in the guidance make a decision tree that leads the practitioner to draw conclusions about whether the project will have a disproportionately high and adverse effect on the target populations.

“Our guidance is, in many ways, a screening tool to screen out projects with little to no potential to impact EJ communities,” Schneider said.

“The questions in the guidance are specifically geared toward identifying potential impacts,” Schneider said.

For example, the questions address the following issues:

  • Are there any relocations?
  • Will there be any changes to access?
  • Were any environmental justice issues that could result in a disproportionately high and adverse effect raised during public involvement?
  • Are there any other unique factors of the proposed project that could pose a disproportionately high and adverse impact on an environmental justice population?

Depending on the resulting answers, a full Environmental Justice Analysis Report may be required.

Conducting Full Analysis, Report

When a full analysis is required, a report is prepared “to determine whether or not your project will have a disproportionately high and adverse impact to an Environmental Justice population and to document any avoidance and mitigation measures,” the guidance said.

The guidance provides a general outline of what information should be included in the report. The seven basic elements include:

  1. Project description;
  2. Summary of purpose and need statement;
  3. Discussion of environmental justice populations;
  4. Discussion of impacts to environmental justice populations;
  5. Public involvement summary;
  6. Discussion of avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures; and
  7. A summary, including justification for the determination.

For projects that require in-depth analyses, the guidance urges users to work with ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services, Policy and Cultural Resources Section for more direction and project-specific assistance on determining how to address potential impacts.

Guidance Applies to NEPA Process

The ODOT guidance must be followed for all environmental assessments, environmental impact statements, and most categorical exclusion levels under ODOT’s 2015 Programmatic Categorical Exclusion Agreement.

Although the guidance is built into ODOT’s Online Categorical Exclusion System, the environmental justice process is essentially the same for more complex environmental documents, according to Schneider, except that “the documentation part is a little different.”

Projects requiring an environmental assessment or environmental impacts statement “often have a higher potential for impacts, but not necessarily,” Schneider added.

Schneider said that less than 1 percent of projects per year require a full Environmental Justice Analysis Report. But for those projects that may impact environmental justice populations, the guidance encourages staff to coordinate with ODOT’s Office of Environmental Services “as early as possible.”

Lessons Learned

Schneider noted several lessons learned in developing the process.

“We strongly emphasize a common sense approach to looking at projects,” Schneider said. “If it makes sense to look farther out [from the project boundaries], we would do so.” Regarding the decision to rely on the EJView tool, it was the result of a lot of work with FHWA division staff and EPA staff, according to Schneider. “We didn’t find a better tool to use,” Schneider said. She recommends use of EJView to other departments of transportation, unless and until something better is developed.

Additionally, Schneider emphasized the importance of making sure the analysis is meaningful.

“We constantly remind our staff and consultants that you can’t just go through the motions,” Schneider said. “Simply having less than 40 percent EJ populations or answering ‘no’ to all of the questions doesn’t mean consideration of EJ populations ends there. We still expect practitioners to use common sense. If there are EJ populations that may require specific public outreach efforts, then that needs to be done. If EJ issues are raised during public involvement activities or there are other project-related circumstances that could cause an impact to EJ populations, those need to be taken into account and addressed.”

Schneider said the guidance has been well received both by consultants and ODOT staff. “It has streamlined our processes by helping screen out projects that don't require further work,” and to “target what we need to focus on,” she said.

For more information, link to ODOT’s Environmental Justice Guidance and ODOT's environmental justice program or contact ODOT’s Erica Schneider at Erica.Schneider@dot.state.oh.us.

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Pennsylvania DOT

Pennsylvania DOT Develops Separate EJ Guidance for Planning, Project Levels

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is successfully integrating input from minority and low-income populations (environmental justice [EJ] populations) and consistently documenting its EJ analyses and findings through use of planning- and project-level guidance developed by the agency.

Executive Order 12898 (1994), Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, directs federal actions to avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects, including socioeconomic, on EJ populations. However, Executive Order 12898 did not provide guidance on how to identify EJ populations, or how to determine if impacts are disproportionately high and adverse.

EJ Guidance at PennDOT

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) approach to implementing Executive Order 12898 (1994)—as well as subsequent Memorandum of Understanding on EJ signed by heads of federal agencies (2011) and DOT’s Final EJ Order 5610.2(a) (2012)—uses guidance documents that are distributed to districts for implementation. In addition to guidance it developed for regional planning-level EJ analyses, PennDOT, also has developed project-level guidance to promote consistency in EJ analyses conducted for relatively minor-impact projects across the state.

Two notable factors influencing PennDOT’s EJ approach include: 1) the agency is decentralized, with projects held at the district-level, and 2) around 99 percent of current PennDOT projects are Categorical Exclusions (CEs) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Pennsylvania develops planning level guidance, Every Voice Counts. Photo: PennDOT

Planning-Level Guidance

Initially, PennDOT developed an EJ guidance for statewide planning and programming processes, Every Voice Counts (2004, updated 2012). PennDOT drew from best practices and existing resources proven to work in practice to develop its EJ guidance. Every Voice Counts describes PennDOT’s regional planning-level EJ responsibilities as: 1) identifying EJ population presence within planning areas; 2) engaging EJ populations in public involvement and subsequent documentation of that engagement; 3) assessing the effects of transportation policies, investments, and programs on EJ populations; and 4) avoiding, minimizing, or mitigating, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse effects.

According to PennDOT’s Transportation Planning Manager Brian Wall, despite the initial Every Voice Counts guidance there were dramatic differences in how EJ efforts were being conducted and documented throughout the state due to the agency’s decentralized operational structure and the number of metropolitan and rural planning organizations and the various staffing levels at those organizations. Therefore, in 2012, as a result of a strengths/weaknesses assessment, PennDOT expanded its EJ guidance and provided clear examples of how to conduct an EJ analysis at the planning level.

Project-Level Guidance

After implementing its planning-level EJ guidance for nearly a decade, PennDOT developed its Project Level Environmental Justice Guidance in 2013. The guidance provides a step-by-step EJ analysis framework to ensure requirements of Executive Order 12898 are appropriately identified, considered, and documented at the project level. Because PennDOT is decentralized, the project-level guidance provides consistency across DOT districts in their approach to EJ analyses.

Additionally, with nearly all PennDOT projects falling under CEs with minimal impacts, PennDOT Environmental Planning Manager Drew Ames said that it can be tough to document EJ efforts. The project-level guidance addresses the issue of determining the presence of EJ populations, appropriate level of documentation, and determining disproportionate adverse impacts. The guidance explains what needs to be done after a project is on the Transportation Improvement Program and preliminary engineering begins, and includes criteria that would qualify a project as exempt from a detailed EJ analysis.

PennDOT provides and documents consideration of potential impacts to EJ populations for categorically excluded projects in the on-line Categorical Exclusion Expert System. For CEs falling under 23 CFR 771.117(d), that are not otherwise covered by a programmatic agreement, the system prompts preparers to answer a series of questions regarding EJ that are based on the analysis described in the guidance document.

In addition, the project-level guidance includes several real-world case studies that describe how project teams reached out to and engaged EJ populations, what data were gathered and analyzed to determine if EJ populations are located in the study area, and what project impacts and benefits were evaluated to determine if the project caused disproportionate and adverse impacts to EJ populations. Moreover, the case studies include helpful “lessons learned” so that other EJ analyses are informed by past experiences. Examples of lessons cited in the guidance include the following:

  • While review of demographic data helps to identify the presence of EJ populations, field views and discussions with local stakeholders can provide valuable insights that cannot be drawn from review of demographic data alone.
  • Enlisting EJ community representatives on community advisory committees can help gain the EJ community’s trust and support for a project.
  • The study area size and shape may require information to be collected from a variety of census data geographies, and may impact the level of effort and resources needed for data collection.
  • Project teams should always check their assumptions about adverse impacts by discussing impacts with EJ populations. What might be considered an adverse impact by project engineers and planners may or may not be interpreted as adverse by the community.

Key Takeaways

PennDOT has realized the following key points and lessons learned in implementing the agency’s planning- and project-level EJ guidance:

  • Documentation: Regardless of a project’s size, it is important to state clearly what types of information or data were considered to identify the presence of EJ populations (e.g. Census data), how EJ populations were engaged in project scoping and the development of project alternatives and any mitigation measures, and how project design may have changed as a result of input from EJ populations.
  • Balance: An EJ analysis is never a “one size fits all” analysis. It is location, community and context-driven, based on the project’s direct, indirect and cumulative impacts and how those impacts are experienced by EJ populations, both positively and negatively.
  • Process efficiencies: Providing a unified guidance for application across jurisdictions helps streamline the state’s EJ analyses and documentation. For example, the process outlined in Every Voice Counts has led to better “benefits and burdens” analysis in long range transportation planning, particularly through the use of GIS.
  • Consolidation: The guidance is intended to consolidate the wealth of information into a document that is easy to access and use for replication across the state—and for other state DOTs.
  • Context: Familiarity with a project area and its residents is irreplaceable. Taking the extra step—such as proactively speaking directly with a community—creates opportunity for more meaningful engagement, a better informed EJ analysis and proactive issue resolution promoting a more collaborative decision-making process.

Overall, PennDOT’s implementation of both its planning-level and project-level EJ guidance documents has enhanced the agency’s ability to integrate meaningful input from EJ populations into its plans, programs, and projects, and has allowed the agency to consistently document its EJ analyses and findings.

For more information on PennDOT’s planning-level EJ guidance, contact Planning-Level EJ Guidance Brian Wall, PennDOT Transportation Planning Manager at bwall@pa.gov. For information on the project-level guidance, contact Drew Ames, PennDOT Environmental Planning Manager, at johname@pa.gov.

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Public Outreach Using Social Media

Using Social Media to Reach Environmental Justice Communities

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Executive Order 12898 requires Federal Agencies to identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse effects of the agency’s programs, policies and activities on minority and low-income populations, often referred to as Environmental Justice (EJ) communities. Social media can be used as one of many methods to reach out to and engage EJ communities. In an effort to ensure that efforts to engage EJ communities through social media are effective, state DOTs and MPOs work to identify and develop the most appropriate social media strategy to reach and target EJ populations.

Overview

According to Pew Research Center, approximately 7 in 10 American adults use social media. The use of at least one social media site continues to grow steadily across all demographics regardless of race, ethnicity, income, age, or gender. For example, Pew research by race shows that 69 percent of people who are African American and 72 percent of those who are of Hispanic origin use at least one social media site. Seventy-four percent of the population who make under $50,000 also use at least one social media site. Most young adults age 18-29 (88 percent) use social media. From a gender perspective, a higher percentage of women (73 percent) social media than men (65 percent).

Social Media can be used as an outreach tool to:

  • Advertise upcoming community meetings or events.
  • Provide timely information and resources about transportation plans and projects.
  • Solicit input, monitor feedback, and collect reactions about upcoming or existing transportation plans and projects.

Social media data analytics tools and resources offer agencies additional insight on EJ populations to assist with future public outreach strategies that evaluate and address EJ as part of transportation planning and development. They help to provide meaningful insights and additional details about the comfortable engagement practices for particular populations that can be used to reach people who may not participate in traditional outreach and engagement efforts such as in-person meetings, helping to form a successful social media strategy. Social media guides and plans can include details and research on best practices such as tone, content, and tips on best practices for EJ communities or low-income communities. Just as with in-person interactions, social media accounts will need to fully understand how to communicate in a culturally appropriate and effective manner.

Community leaders are a key asset in understanding the cultural nuances and serving as conduits in EJ communities. For example, the Buford Highway Pedestrian Improvement project at the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) focused efforts on high school involvement by creating a public service announcement competition. GDOT used Facebook and Twitter to spread the PSA competition information and to reach a specific audience. Along with the use of social media, GDOT also utilized more traditional outreach efforts to reach high school students. These efforts included in-person community outreach efforts in supermarkets that catered to both language and cultural preferences.

While social media can be used as a tool for community outreach and engagement, it can also be a successful tool to build peer networks within an agency and to help facilitate and foster inter-agency collaboration. Social media development allows for agencies to participate in trends to learn more about user interest, coordinate with partners, interact with audiences, and highlight meetings and community events. These are all areas highlighted in the Practitioners Peer Exchange Environmental Justice Roadmap.

North Central Texas Council of Governments

In 2017, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) transportation department developed a social media design guide that provided in-depth details on graphic dimensions, typography, watermarks, layouts, design trends, and photos. NCTCOG also developed a strategic plan and style guide to modernize the tone of social media. The additional resources NCTCOG placed on social media were used to target outreach and advertising for the transportation department.

Using a variety of communication platforms, NCTCOG identified six types of posts for engagement:

  1. Transportation Related News
  2. Project and program specific information
  3. Holiday and event graphics
  4. Video
  5. Just for Fun
  6. Safety

NCTCOG’s social media strategy studied the impact of hashtags and found that posts with hashtags received two times more engagement than posts without hashtags. They also found that the time of day and the visual content made a difference in impressions and engagement. NCTCOG’s manager of public involvement, Amanda Wilson, noted, “It is extremely difficult to get the attention of social media users between busy news feeds and algorithms that don’t show an organization’s posts to all followers. We analyzed what works and doesn’t work to reach our audience and focused on changes we can make, like when we post and using visually appealing graphics, to achieve greater engagement and impressions.”

Impressions are the number of times a social media post has been seen. Social media platforms use algorithms to determine which users to show certain content and not all of an organization’s followers will see each post. Impressions can be higher if you post at correct times, use graphics that attract attention, get “likes” or other reactions, or if people share an organization’s post. The reactions, comments or shares are especially important because it amplifies the impressions – getting the message out even to people who don’t directly follow the organization.

NCTCOG Graphic

NCTCOG experienced a 25 percent higher engagement rate when social media used:

  • Human tone - communicating in a way that is more personable and conversational.
  • Fun, light-hearted content
  • Content and voice mirror pages followed by staff at NCTCOG
  • Strategic plan, style guide and design guide

NCTCOG used these strategies for AirCheckTexas, a program that assists low- and moderate-income individuals repair or replace vehicles that don’t pass a state emissions inspection. Program interest and shares have increased significantly in the program since it started advertising on Facebook. The Facebook advertising uses visually appealing graphics and a call to action with the message “ACT NOW!” Geotargeting, which is tailoring an ad based on demographics and key words, has helped to “zero in” on individuals who are more likely to qualify for the program versus advertising that is not targeted. An additional way the reach of these ads has been expanded is when people “tag” their friends who may not have seen the advertisement. This type of word-of-mouth marketing can increase the effectiveness of paid advertising.

NCTCOG also invested in paid advertising on Facebook that linked to a transportation planning survey (Mobility 2045). The paid ads targeted EJ communities, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, including ads produced in Spanish that targeted persons of Hispanic origin. In addition to expanding the reach of the survey in hopes of getting a higher number of completions, the paid advertising allowed NCTCOG to gather analytic data that showed which type of advertising was most effective. NCTCOG tested two types of ads, one using general professional language, and the other using more colloquial informal language.

The highest survey response rate came from those developed using general professional language and targeted to a general population. However, ads in Spanish targeted to the Hispanic community also had a higher response rate. For those that responded to the survey in Spanish, 90 percent were directed from Facebook advertising, showing that the advertising did help push a higher response. This was the first time social media advertising was used to specifically promote an MTP survey, but it will likely be used again in the future.

Peer Exchange Discussions

In a peer exchange discussion between Minnesota, Ohio, and Massachusetts a Transportation Planning Capacity Building (TPCB) Peer Program report highlighted the use of social media and public outreach. During the discussion representatives from state DOTs provided specific examples of public involvement strategies for their respective states. Strategies to maximize public participation included public meetings as well a full use of social media tools and efforts. Ohio Department of Transportation, Office of Environmental Services Administrator, Timothy Hill adds, “In Ohio’s project example, social media was (and continues to be) a vital tool in reaching Ohio’s public. Long gone are the days where a state DOT would post an advertisement in the paper for a meeting and people would come. Today’s world requires a full use of the social media palate and state DOTs should be flexible and know when (and how) to apply to best tools for their specific project’s needs.”

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Featured Case Study

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    Pennsylvania DOT has developed its Every Voice Counts planning-level environmental justice guidance as well as separate project-level guidance.

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