Economic Viability and Community Impact Assessments in Transportation Decision Making

Focus Area

Environmental Justice


Community & Cultural Concerns, Environmental Process






1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

Problem Statement – Transportation decision makers and stakeholders have touted the economic development benefit of improvements to our transportation infrastructure. It is important to understand transportation environmental justice and equity, and balance the incidence of impacts in decision making. One familiar axiom is that four-lane roadways are directly tied to economic development. In many state highway departments it is widely accepted that any roadway expansion project will spur economic development and provide jobs. However, there are no hard data to demonstrate under what situations roadway expansion will provide economic development opportunities. The community impacts, including the effects of business relocations, are particularly important elements to evaluate in the decision to widen a roadway. Many businesses that have developed next to the roadway are dependent on the traffic and their specific location.  Traditionally, business impacts are handled under the areas where four lanes are not needed for capacity, it has not been documented that roadway expansion draws industry and provides jobs. Unfortunately, these project decisions are often not made in the context of the overall community impacts. It may not always be in the best interest of the community to sacrifice wider sidewalks, bikeways, on-street parking, and other nonvehicular elements to provide extra roadway travel lanes on low-volume roadways.

Proposed Research
The research will involve a review of projects where economic development has been the primary, stated project purpose and need of a proposed roadway expansion project. Roadways are often expanded to four lanes, where projected capacity warrants only two lanes. Use of existing case studies and available research will demonstrate if economic development and jobs result from roadway expansion. This research must include assessing the resulting community impacts. On balance, were impacts such as community cohesion, visual resources, pedestrian facilities, and bicycle accommodation as important as roadway expansion in decision making? Without a good community profile, by means of a CIA, the real economic vitality, benefits, and impacts cannot be assessed. Standard models provide little information on CIAs or social and economic differences. Also, the researcher must consider the impacts on different social and economic communities to examine the equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of project development. The research should focus particularly on the effect of business impacts and their relocation on communities. Often small businesses along the roadway play a large role in the community. Factors of decision making can extend well beyond the economic benefits provided. A new business at a new location may or may not provide a few extra jobs. How can this be predicted? Also, what is the real cost to the community from the loss of business at a particular location? Perhaps a wider sidewalk, rather than an extra travel lane, is a better economic enhancement. The researcher must appreciate definitions of social equity and environmental justice and develop processes for evaluation of impacts and their distribution. Research is needed to understand the community dynamics and interplay with economic development for state highway departments and other decision makers to best serve the public interest in roadway expansion projects.

Suggested By

ADD50, Environmental Justice in Transportation Committee, as specified in the TRB Research Needs Database, 2009. (Submitted to TRB 6/2007)