Environmental Justice Assessment of the Benefits of Transportation Investment Programs
Community & Cultural Concerns, Environmental Process
Research Idea Scope
Equity is on the agenda of a growing number of MPOs and state DOTs, following Title VI requirements and subsequent federal guidelines. At the same time, there is little practical guidance regarding the scope and focus of such an equity analysis when it comes to the benefits that are generated by transport investment projects and programs. The goal of the proposed research is to develop an approach for such an equity analysis. This requires answers to a number of questions: which benefits should be included in the analysis, how they should be measured (e.g., which set of indicators should be used), which groups should be distinguished in the analysis (at risk communities, only groups or also neighborhoods and mode-groups and, if so, how?), and – most importantly – which yardstick to use in assessing whether a program lives up to Title VI.
We propose to develop this approach through a number of steps. First, we will study and critically assess how front-runner MPOs and DOTs are currently carrying out EJ analysis regarding transport benefits. Second, we will conduct a series of interviews with key officials to collect their opinions on the way in which the distribution of benefits of transport projects and programs should be assessed. We will then develop draft guidelines on how to conduct an EJ analysis regarding transport benefits. These guidelines will be tested by applying them to transport investments plans of one-two MPOs/DOTs, incorporating the EJ analysis in the regional travel demand forecasting process and carrying it through to detailed simulation of project impacts. The aim is to develop powerful examples of how EJ analysis can be applied, providing a benchmark against which the work of MPOs and state DOTs can be compared. The results of the test case will be discussed in focus groups and conclusions will be drawn and laid down in a set of guidelines for EJ analysis that could be used by MPOs and state DOTS through the country. Finally, we , will develop methodologies that can help identify specific transportation investments will help fulfill Title VI requirements.
Urgency and Payoff
We feel that a practical set of guidelines for EJ analysis of transport benefits is necessary for two reasons. First, there is increasing pressure from federal authorities as well as grassroots organizations to incorporate EJ analysis into transport investment planning. As a result MPOs and state DOTs are seeking for ways to incorporate this in their practices. They can benefit directly from the project, as it provides them a critical review of existing practices, as well as practical guidelines that have been tested. Through the analytical efforts described above and the application in test case(s), we will create a set of results and illustrative examples that should help raise the standards with which the public sector considers EJ in transportation planning process and in transport project and plan evaluation. Second, the changing transportation funding realities make it necessary for MPOs and state DOTs to determine how to best allocate scarce resources, given conflicting priorities. Given the importance of transport projects for the economy, as well as for the participation of groups in the labor market, efficiency and equity should both be incorporated in the decision-making. In order to achieve a balanced program, methods are needed for prioritization of project selection based on equity considerations. The project aims to deliver exactly that.