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Social Resources and Economic Impacts

Transit projects frequently produce social and economic impacts,positive or negative, and may influence the character and nature of communities. These impacts should be addressed in environmental documents, and generally fall into the following categories listed below.

Property Acquisition and Relocations
If land is to be acquired for a transit project, the project’s environmental documentation should contain a description of the land. 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. Additionally, the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act requirements must be met.

The property acquisition analysis and relocation process are discussed in more detail here.

Environmental Justice
Executive Order 12898 requires each Federal agency, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, and consistent with the principles set forth in the report on the National Performance Review, to achieve environmental justice as part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects, including interrelated social and economic effects, of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States.. Guidance on consideration of environmental justice impacts during the NEPA process for FTA projects can be found here.

Community Impacts
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, grant applicants 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 community impacts may include physical and psychological barriers, changes in land use patterns, a change in access to services, changes in population densities, and disruptions to neighborhood cohesiveness.

Land Use and Development
Transit projects need to 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. The compatibility of the project with local and state plans and zoning regulations should also be considered.

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.

Economic Impacts
Proposed transit projects may have economic impacts that should be included in environmental impact documents. 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 probably 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. There may also be economic benefits of a project including accessibility to markets and job creation.

Safety and Security
Safety and security should be addressed in a project’s environmental document so the public is aware that safety and security were considered while developing theproject. 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.

Visual Impacts
Some types of mass transit projects have visual impacts on their surrounding environment. Generally, the types of projects requiring a visual impact assessment,as related to the environment, are 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. Refer to Section 106 for a discussion of visual impacts on historic resources.

Additional Resources:
Federal Highway Administration, Community Impact Assessment: A Quick Reference for Transportation(1996)

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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