Improving the Transportation Decision-Making Process through Integrating Health Impact Assessment Effective Practices

Focus Area

NEPA Process


Environmental Process






1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

The transportation industry is experiencing a paradigm shift toward livability and sustainability, as evidenced by federal-level policy, new grant programs and keen interest in research connecting transportation with livable and sustainable outcomes. NEPA practitioners have long been asked to identify and address effects from transportation projects on the human and natural environments; however, regulatory pressures have often focused the decision-making process more on natural environmental impacts than human environmental impacts.  As such, transportation planners and NEPA practitioners have struggled to find appropriate tools, techniques and methodologies to identify and address human health and social impacts resulting from transportation actions.  The growing field of Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is rich with methods and processes that could effectively and consistently address human health impacts and other societal benefits and co-benefits in the transportation decision-making process. Other countries have been dealing with this issue for years; however, this concept is an emerging issue for the US transportation system. 
HIA’s have a track record for formulating holistic and context-specific recommendations through a comprehensive community-based approach.  Transportation planners and NEPA practitioners can benefit from learning more about these community based tools and techniques used during the HIA process.  The objective of this research is to identify effective practices from the HIA process and provide recommendations on incorporating those practices into the transportation decision-making process, particularly the planning and NEPA phases, to better reflect sustainable and livable outcomes and to address this emerging area in a defensible manner 

A search of recent research TRB papers through TRIS Online ( indicates that the proposed research does not duplicate current or recent research. The following results were returned from a search for, “Health Impact Assessment.”   
The study titled, “Quantitative Health Impact Assessment of Transport Policies: Two Simulations Related to Speed Limit Reduction and Traffic Re-allocation in the Netherlands,” (Schram-Bijkerk et al. 2009 – 2010) evaluates the usability of current HIA methodology to quantify the health effects of speed limit reduction and traffic re-allocation at the local level.
A Climate/Environmental/Health Impact Assessment IT – Tool for Freight Transportation, (Swahn et al. 2009) presents a web-service tool to offer different levels of calculating the climate, environmental and health impacts of freight transports, as they are currently being developed within the framework of The Network for Transport and Environment.
Lastly a New Zealand Transport Agency Research Report entitled, “Applying Health Impact Assessment to Land Transport Planning”, (Ball et al, 2009) discusses the use of HIA to determine the impacts of transportation projects on the public health and well being of the population of New Zealand.
A search of “Health Impact Assessment” in TRB’s Research in Progress database ( returned a City College of City University of New York study, “Hot-Spot Analysis of Fine Particles for Environmental and Health Impact Assessment of Transportation Emissions in South Bronx”, (Research Completed 2009) that looked at hotspot modeling and how it can provide decision makers with a quantitative tool for environmental assessments of transportation projects.
All of these reports and papers highlight the relationship between transportation and health. None of them however directly address using the successful practices of Health Impact Assessments to improve and compliment the NEPA process.   
The research should address the challenges as well as the opportunities of greater adoption of HIAs in the transportation context. For example, a challenge faced by many HIAs is the lack of disaggregated public health data at appropriate geographic scales. At the same time HIAs offer a unique opportunity to extend the reach of current practice and the NEPA process because there are many methodological similarities between the two processes. In addition the research should include an analysis of cross-cutting elements and parallel processes to identify policy levers that may streamline the integration of HIA effective practices into formal regulatory frameworks.
General Scope of Work
Task 1- Scan of current practices with respect to HIAs for transportation, this should include International, National, state and local practices.
Task 2- Analyze examples of HIAs in the planning and environmental processes.
Task 3- Identify the overlaps and parallels of the HIA and transportation project development. Determine a logical insertion points for the HIA, along with clarifying the relationship between the scale of an HIA analysis and the scale of a transportation planning and NEPA analysis (which is broader and how and where do they overlap?)
Task 4- Identify the overlaps and parallels with HIA and other established regulatory frameworks. Since HIAs are a public health issue, what role do other government agencies need to play in the preparation of an HIA?  How would this fit into the transportation planning and NEPA analysis?
Task 5- Develop and discuss criteria for determining which transportation projects should consider including HIAs as part of the decision-making process and to ensure they have a legally defensible action.
Task 6- Develop criteria for determining the proper scale of an HIA for transportation. What is the appropriate geographic scale for conducting an HIA for a transportation project? What elements are appropriate for consideration in a transportation-related HIA?
Task 7- Gather and/or create HIA methodologies and practices that would be most appropriately used for transportation projects.
Task 8- Develop and discuss options for avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures that can be implemented and practiced.  What challenges exist with respect to the development and implementation of such measures?  How much responsibility should fall on the transportation project?

Urgency and Payoff

Integrating HIA effective practices into the NEPA framework and, more broadly, the transportation decision making process, will improve project analysis at all stages of the process. Project scoping will be improved through a richer, more holistic depiction of community needs and understanding of anticipated impacts. As a result of improved project scoping, project purpose and need may be thoughtfully crafted to better address context-specific issues and clearly support broader policy goals. Using HIAs may lead to a more nuanced approach to developing the range of alternatives considered. HIA effective practices can also provide additional quantitative and qualitative methods to practitioners in defining the affected environment and evaluating environmental consequences of alternatives such that the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative represents a more balanced solution. Finally, community needs and added community stressors as a result of the project may be more succinctly defined which could support the development of more effective mitigation strategies. 

In a broader sense, HIA may offer an opportunity for transportation agencies to support the ongoing evolution of the NEPA process so that it remains a state-of-the-art regulatory mechanism focused on delivering projects and programs that support broad societal goals related to the human and natural environment.
Lastly, since HIA in the NEPA and Project Development Process is an emerging issue, having pro-active research will help establish direction and approach for transportation officials to ensure this issue is addressed in cost effective process that also improves decision-making and defensibility of transportation actions.

Suggested By

Leigh Lane, Ann Hartell, Ted Mansfield, Center for Transportation and the Environment at NCSU Timothy Hill, Chair, AASHTO Standing SCOE/Subcommittee on Environmental Process and Analysis Ohio Department of Transportation

tjmansfi[email protected]