Section 4: Social and Economic ImpactsAnchor: #i1004168
NEPA requires that projects be evaluated for impacts to the human environment. In practice, however, impacts to people and communities are sometimes overshadowed by a project’s impacts on natural and cultural resources. This section provides the tools and methods to effectively identify and evaluate social and economic impacts. Please note that public comment and involvement is a critical element in good evaluations of social and environmental impacts.
The following activities occur as a part of social and economic impact analysis:
- assess social and economic impacts
- involve the public
- ensure non-discrimination
- assess visual and aesthetic impacts.
Assessing Social and Economic Impacts
The following steps cover social and economic impacts:
- define study area
- develop community profile
- collect additional data
- address questions.
An effective analysis of social and economic resources should examine the relationships between the proposed transportation project and community life. The level of documentation and analysis should be in direct proportion to the magnitude of a proposed transportation project.
Projects with limited adverse impacts (such as utility adjustments and projects that do not add capacity) would only require a brief summary of the effects to the surrounding community. However, even minor projects may cause controversy. For example, a bridge replacement may be controversial in a neighborhood because the bridge being replaced is historic.
For additional information, consult FHWA’s guidebook, Community Impact Assessment A Quick Reference for Transportation (Publication No. FHWA-PD-96-036, September 1996).Anchor: #i1004257
Define the Study Area
The study area for an impacted community typically includes communities within and immediately surrounding the proposed project. Community boundaries can often be delineated by physical barriers, land-use patterns, political divisions (such as school districts), selected demographic characteristics, historical backgrounds, resident perceptions, subdivisions and neighborhoods recognized by name and tradition.
Additionally, the project may have social and economic consequences for communities beyond the immediate geographic area. For example, a proposed bypass on the outskirts of a city may have repercussions for its downtown business district. Therefore, the presence/absence of a downtown business district or nearby historic district should be noted.
NOTE: The concept of community must remain flexible because boundaries and circumstances change over time.Anchor: #i1004277
Data Sources for Social and Economic Resources
The following are sources for social and economic resources:
- windshield surveys
- review of aerial photographs (existing and past)
- sources of information:
- the public
- metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs)/councils of government (COGs)
- chambers of commerce
- city and county planning offices
- social service agencies
- community groups
- web pages/internet.
Developing Community Profiles
Community profiles should be developed based on:
- Demographics population, growth trends and patterns, racial and ethnic percentages, income levels of residents, employment status, and information about sub-groups such as elderly populations or tribal governments
- Socio-economics community’s historical background, culture, economic base, property values, and other social and economic characteristics, such as the prominence of tourism to the local economy
- Physical characteristics infrastructure (roads, transit, water, and sewage systems), zoning regulations, planned development, and community centers, public facilities, businesses, housing (discuss availability, age, and type), and any other special areas such as parks, historic districts, and recreational areas.
Address Community Impact Questions
Unlike natural and cultural resource, social, and economic issues are not regulated. There is no template for evaluation, and evaluations differ based not only on project types but also on the values different communities may have. For example, one city may place great value on tourism, desiring increased access. Another city might wish to have increased access balanced with pedestrian-friendly design.
- Social and community impacts:
- How will the project affect interaction among persons and groups?
- How will the project change social relationships and patterns?
- Will certain segments of a community be separated or set apart from others?
- Will the community’s aesthetic character be changed?
- Is the design of the project compatible with community goals?
- What will be the perceived impact on the quality of life?
- Is the proposed project in compliance with Executive Order 13166: Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency?
- Land use changes:
- Will the proposed project open new areas for development?
- Will the transportation project induce changes in land use and density?
- Is the project consistent with local land use plans and zoning?
- Economic and business impacts:
- Will the proposed action encourage businesses to move to the area, relocate within the area, close, or move outside the area?
- Will the proposed action alter business visibility to traffic-based businesses?
- Will the project affect parking availability to businesses?
- How will visibility and access changes alter business activity?
- What is the effect on the tax base (i.e., taxable property removed from base, changes in property values, changes in business activity) and on property values?
- Mobility and access:
- How does the project affect non-motorists' access to businesses, public services, schools, and other facilities?
- Does the project impede or enhance access between residences and community facilities and businesses?
- How does the project affect access to public transportation?
- Public safety:
- How will the proposed action affect safety for motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users?
- Will there be changes in emergency response time (fire, police, and ambulances)?
- Will the project result in relocation or displacement of public facilities or community centers (e.g., places of worship)?
- How many residences will be displaced? What type(s)multi-family, single residence, rural residential?
- Are there displaced residents with special needs (i.e., people with disabilities and elderly residents)?
- How many businesses and farms will be displaced?
- Is last resort housing anticipated due to non-availability of replacement housing?
The NEPA process, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and related statutes, and Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice should be incorporated in the process to ensure non- discrimination and identify and address any disproportionately high health and environmental impacts to minority populations and low-income populations.
Is a minority or low-income population shouldering a disproportionate share of the adverse impacts of a proposed transportation project? For example, are a majority of injurious displacements localized in minority or low-income areas along a proposed route?
Questions to be considered:
- Does the minority or low-income population receive the same design standards with regard to noise barriers, landscaping, enhancements (such as sidewalks, storm sewers, hike and bike trails, etc.) and other aesthetic considerations?
- Is a minority or low-income section of a community receiving the same consideration and benefits as other areas along a proposed route?
Public Comment and Involvement
The public can assist districts by serving as an important resource in providing information for socio-economic analysis: The public can assist in the following:
- helping to develop a project’s purpose and need:
- profiling the community’s demographics
- identifying alternatives and impacts
- identifying community values and community landmarks
- developing strategies and solutions for avoiding, mitigating, minimizing, or enhancing impacted resources.
In addition to the formal public involvement procedures required by NEPA, other informal public involvement methods are often useful. Informal means of public involvement include:
- on-site meetings
- workshops with neighborhood associations
- mailing lists
- newsletters to discuss status and construction detours
- internet web sites with e-mail comment forms
- public opinion surveys.
A strong, proactive, and early public involvement process results in better environmental documents that more accurately reflect a community’s needs and goals. In the end, good public involvement enhances the credibility of the environmental process, its sponsoring agencies, and the NEPA process.Anchor: #i1004647
Assessing Visual and Aesthetic Resources
Visual resources are those physical features that make up the visible landscape, and are a part of an individual or community’s quality of life. These resources include:
- natural and vegetative settings
- man-made elements.
Areas that have been recognized as being especially sensitive to visual and aesthetic changes include:
- areas with historic or culturally important resources
- areas of recognized scenic beauty
- parks and recreational areas
- entries/gateways to cities, towns, or neighborhoods
- bodies of water
- public facility settings, such as universities and courthouses.
- Beneficial impacts arising from the action are as important to the decision-making process as negative impacts. Moreover, enhancement of the visual quality of an area will likely result in increased public acceptance of the project.
Upgrading and constructing highways, whether in scenic or in unexceptional visual areas, generally heighten a viewer’s awareness of visual changes in the environment. Project impacts can either benefit or adversely affect the scenic and visual qualities of the immediate and surrounding area.
When assessing the visual and aesthetic impacts of a proposed project, it is important to remember that the volume and level of analysis should be commensurate with the scope and magnitude of a project and its impacts. Environmental documents should briefly describe the visual qualities in the study area and the proposed project’s potential impact to the visual resources.