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Community impact assessment (CIA ) is a process to evaluate the effects of a transportation action on a community and its quality of life. The assessment process is an integral part of project planning and development that shapes the outcome of a project. Its information is used continuously to mold the project and provide documentation of the current and anticipated social environment of a geographic area with and without the action. The assessment should include all items of importance to people, such as mobility, safety, employment effects, relocation, isolation, and other community issues.
Transportation investments have major influences on society, with significant economic and social consequences. However, in many instances in the past, impacts on people have not received the attention they deserve. The community impact assessment process alerts affected communities and residents, as well as transportation planners and decision-makers, to the likely consequences of a project, and ensures that human values and concerns receive proper attention during project development. Specifically, community impact assessment is important for:
- Quality of Life: Helps to promote livable, sustainable communities by placing priority on preserving or enhancing community character, neighborhood cohesion, social interaction, safety, economic prosperity, and general quality of life.
- Responsiveness: Promotes responsive, community-sensitive decision making in planning and developing transportation projects that embraces community concerns, seeks to minimize conflict, and works to help solve community problems.
- Coordination: Improves coordination among the agencies and jurisdictions involved in transportation, land use, environmental preservation, resource management, and economic development.
- Nondiscrimination: Ensures that environmental justice is achieved by alerting decision makers to impacts on all segments of society and avoiding disproportionate adverse impacts on specific populations.
Community impact assessment is integral to the entire project development and decision-making process. For example, the assessment of community impacts, along with other relevant environmental impact studies, helps shape project decisions and outcomes under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Within the NEPA process, the assessment serves a number of key roles:
- provides critical information about community values.
- used in the evaluation and selection of a preferred alternative.
- influences "significant effects" determination.
The community impact assessment assures that consequences to the social fabric of an area are given consideration with other environmental impacts. The community planners play a vital role in the project team as advocates for community values.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice are implemented through the NEPA process. This process includes identifying social, economic and environmental effects, considering alternatives, and coordinating with local and regional governments and the public. Addressing these issues will prevent the potential for discrimination or disproportionately high and adverse impacts. Community impact assessment is key to this preventative approach.