Transit projects frequently produce social and economic externalities and may influence the character and nature of communities. These impacts should be addressed in environmental documents and generally fall into the following categories: land acquisition, community impacts, land use and development, economic impacts and safety/security.
If land is to be acquired for a transit project, the project’s environmental documentation should contain a description of the land to be acquired. In cases where an acquisition requires the displacement of businesses or individuals, there is a social impact that must be analyzed as part of the environmental documentation process. This analysis should identify the characteristics and needs of persons and businesses to be displaced, describe inventory availability of comparable replacement dwellings and sites, discuss potential relocation problems, and describe methods to mitigate adverse impacts. In certain exceptional circumstances, FTA may approve the acquisition of some land before the environmental documentation process has been completed, however, no project development may occur until the entire NEPA process has been completed. The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (42 U.S.C. 4601), also known as the "Uniform Act", establishes a policy for the fair and equitable treatment of persons displaced as a result of federal and federally assisted programs.Federal regulations implementing the Uniform Act are contained in 49 CFR Part 24. Guidance on the Uniform Act as it pertains to FTA programs and projects is contained in Chapter II, Management of Real Property, Equipment and Supplies, of the FTA Circular 5010.1C, Grant Management Guidelines; October 1, 1998.
Transit projects affect the social environment in several ways and may change the physical layout, demographics and sense of neighborhood in local communities. As part of the NEPA process, project sponsors should work with local planning agencies and conduct public outreach to determine the impacts a proposed project may have on communities and identify methods to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts. Specific impacts may include: creating physical and psychological barriers; changes in land use patterns, circulation patterns, and access to services; changes in population densities; and, affects on neighborhood cohesiveness.
Land Use and Development
Sections 3 and 5 of the Urban Mass Transportation Act require that federally funded transit projects be consistent with official plans for the comprehensive development of an area, as well as with a community’s goals and objectives. To ensure compliance with this requirement, every environmental document should include maps showing existing and proposed future land uses of the area around the proposed project alternative alignments. If a proposed project is fully consistent with existing and proposed land uses and will not be the impetus for new development that would be inconsistent with policies or plans, no further analysis is required.
If a proposed project alternative alignment would not be compatible with surrounding land uses or would encourage land use and development inconsistent with local plans, goals and objectives, the expected impacts on the area and a discussion of alternative locations should be presented in the environmental document. In addition, the document should identify measures that would be used to mitigate any anticipated adverse impacts.
Proposed transit projects may have economic impacts that should be included in environmental impact documents. In particular, projects may create direct and indirect taxation changes, cause substantial displacement of businesses and individuals, disrupt business activities, and influence regional construction costs. If a proposed project is small, contained on a single site, does not involve displacements, and is compatible with surrounding land uses, there will probable be few economic impacts and extensive analysis is not needed. If a project is costly, covers a wide area, and will cause extensive displacement of businesses and individuals, there is a greater chance that it will cause economic impacts. In such cases, a detailed economic impact analysis should be included in environmental documentation.
Safety and Security
Safety and security are concerns with all transit projects and should be addressed in a project’s environmental document so that the public is aware that they have been considered in the development of a project. Specifically, projects should be evaluated to identify potential pedestrian and traffic hazards, as well as user and employee security issues. Where adverse impacts are identified, environmental documents should discuss mitigation methods.
Some types of urban mass transit projects have visual effects on their surrounding environment while others, primarily those that do not involve physical changes, generally will have no impact. The following types of projects generally will require an assessment of its visual effects on the environment: new fixed guideway systems and extensions; projects involving construction that may affect historic sites; projects requiring extensive remodeling of buildings or their surrounding area that may not be compatible with the character of the area; and most elevated guideway projects.
In June 1995, FTA published Circular 9400.1A, Design and Art in Transit Projects. This circular reaffirmed FTA’s encouragement of the incorporation of design and artistic considerations into transit projects. It provides guidance for specific types of transit projects and the opportunities they afford which can include special architectural treatments, graphics, artwork, streetscape amenities, etc.
- Federal Highway Administration, “Community Impact Assessment: A Quick Reference for Transportation” (1996)