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Environmental Justice

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SEMCOG evaluates the strength of the FY 2011-2014 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) by its commitment to meeting the transportation needs of all citizens, particularly those who have traditionally been underrepresented in the transportation planning process. Besides the customary practices designed to facilitate collaborative interaction during all phases of the transportation planning process, SEMCOG evaluates the impacts of the TIP on five groups — low-income households, and African-American, Asian-American, Native American, and Hispanic persons.

Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. 2000d-1) states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” In the same spirit, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898 on February 11, 1994, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. The stated purpose of this order is to make achieving environmental justice part of (each Federal agency’s) mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations. Similar orders followed from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Federal Highway Administration. The USDOT order specifically defines the five populations that must be included in environmental justice (EJ) analyses.

Identification of EJ populations
The first step in the analysis of the TIP is identifying the location of the defined EJ populations. Minority populations are defined in the USDOT order as persons who are African-American, Asian-American, Native American, or of Hispanic descent. Low-income means persons whose household income is at or below the Department of Health and Human Services poverty guidelines. Based on regional totals, minority persons make up 27 percent of the region’s total population. In addition, 10 percent of households in the region are living at or below the poverty level.

For both minority populations and low-income households, 2000 U.S. Census block groups where the percentage population of either group meets or exceeds the regional average are identified as EJ block groups. Regionwide, 12 percent of total land area is home to a significant EJ population.

Project Analysis
The project analysis includes mappable projects (i.e., projects that contain sufficient geographic information to allow mapping to a particular location) in four categories — bridge, enhancement (such as walking/biking and streetscaping projects), road preservation, and safety. These four project types are generally considered to have a positive impact on the adjacent community. For each project type, the land area surrounding the projects is tabulated and assigned to either the EJ total or the non-EJ total. The same is done for project costs; in this portion of the analysis, general line-item projects (i.e., those assigned only to a county or municipality rather than a particular road segment) are also included, with dollar amounts distributed based on the EJ to non-EJ ratio in the designated area.

Results indicate that of the area surrounding these projects, 35 percent is home to a significant EJ population. Of the dollars invested in these types of projects, 40 percent is invested in EJ areas as detailed below. Considering 12 percent of all land area in the region is home to a significant EJ population, these results indicate EJ populations are receiving an equitable share of project benefits.

Environmental Justice Project Analysis

Regional

Environmental Justice

Project Type

Project Acres

Project Cost (millions)

Project Acres

Project Cost (millions)

Acres Ratio

Cost Ratio

Bridge

2,247

$252

501

$126

22% 

50% 

Enhancement

1,429

$79

565

$62

40% 

78% 

Preservation

40,906

$1,115

12,858

$393

31% 

35% 

Safety

54,009

$215

19,556

$84

36% 

39% 

Total

97,359

$1,657

33,391

$665

34% 

40% 

Public involvement
While project evaluation is an important aspect of ensuring environmental justice, so too, are planning processes such as public involvement. The public involvement process is an important element in transportation planning and SEMCOG values the input of all persons. It is of particular concern that those who have historically been underrepresented be sought out and heard, including EJ populations.

Because of the importance of public involvement, SEMCOG has endeavored to meet with representatives from various EJ populations and involve them in the transportation planning process. SEMCOG has an active general media strategy for using television, radio, cable television, and editorial boards to disseminate important messages. Specific actions taken by SEMCOG to reach out to EJ populations include placing advertisements in various news publications reaching African-American, Asian-American, Native American, and Hispanic persons and low-income residents and focusing efforts to meet with and present information to these various groups. Information is also disseminated through local block clubs, libraries, and various grass roots organizations.

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