A methodology for the environmental justice assessment of toll road projects
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Environmental Justice (EJ) legislation and regulation are designed to protect the health and welfare of specific populations. Although the importance of environmentally just transportation projects is widely recognized, appropriate documents to guide transportation decision makers in assessing EJ concerns particularly pertinent to tolled facilities are largely unavailable. It is foreseeable that toll road projects could hold additional benefits as well as burdens for EJ communities compared to non-toll road projects. To date, however, very little guidance exists on how to assess the additional benefits and burdens imposed by toll roads compared to non-toll roads, and how to mitigate any negative impacts. The objective of this research was to develop a robust approach for the effective identification, evaluation, and mitigation of disproportionately high impacts imposed on minority and low-income communities (EJ communities) by toll roads relative to non-toll roads given four specific scenarios. The scenarios were conceptualized considering the tolling policy adopted on December 16, 2003 by the Texas Transportation Commission. The recommended EJ evaluation methodology vii (EJEM) has two equally important components: an analysis/quantitative and an effective EJ participation component. The analysis component requires the analyst to (1) identify the demographic profile and the spatial distribution of population groups within the impacted area by using an appropriate geographic scale, (2) identify the spatial concentrations of EJ communities in the impacted area, (3) determine the additional impacts of concern associated with the toll road relative to the non-toll road, (4) calculate the magnitude of the additional impacts, (5) determine whether zones with higher concentrations of EJ populations are disproportionately impacted by the toll road, and (6) identify and formulate effective mitigation options if it is found that the impacts on zones with higher concentrations of EJ populations are appreciable more severe than the impacts on zones with lower or no concentrations of EJ populations. The EJ participation component aims to ensure that EJ communities are given the opportunity for meaningful participation. EJ outreach efforts are foreseen during the various steps of the analysis to ensure that (1) all EJ communities (neighborhoods) are identified, (2) all the adverse impacts are identified and prioritized, (3) the measured impacts are shared with the impacted communities, and (4) effective mitigation options are designed in consultation with the impacted EJ community. Finally, the products developed in this research provide transportation planners and decision makers with a robust and defendable methodology to address EJ concerns associated with toll road projects in Texas and other U.S. states with similar equity concerns.