How to Build Equity Into Transportation Projects From the Beginning

HDR’s Cathy LaFata Shares Insights on the Environmental Justice Process and Ideas on Improving Engagement Strategies in Latest Experts Talk Interview

Cathy LaFata
Cathy LaFata

The current conversation around inclusion and diversity has important implications for public infrastructure. Transportation projects play a critical role in social and community equity. For example, determining whether a mode or an area is accessible to everyone is a key project consideration that should be addressed early during initial project planning and include input from all members of a community.

The concept of equity in transportation is not new. As part of the environmental justice analysis required for any federal U.S. project, owners must consider the potential for disproportionately high and adverse effects on minority and low-income populations. Soliciting input from people whose voices have been historically absent from public projects is at the core of the environmental justice process.

In the latest in HDR’s Experts Talk interview series, environmental justice expert Cathy LaFata explores the non-negotiable process of valuing environmental justice as part of transportation program implementation.

“Environmental justice is much more than a box that you check during the NEPA process,” she said. “In order to achieve meaningful involvement, you must proactively engage with underrepresented communities to thoroughly understand the issues people are facing and really seek to uncover how the project may affect them. Social and environmental justice can only be achieved when we understand what matters to these communities and meaningfully integrate it into the project.”

Read the interview.

LaFata has been practicing environmental justice in the transportation world since the requirement was introduced in 1994, long before the most recent conversations started. LaFata sits on the TRB Environmental Justice Standing Committee, APTA Planning, Policy and Program Development Committee and APTA Environmental Justice/Title VI Subcommittee. In June of 2018, she presented at the APTA Rail Conference on the equity issues related to transit oriented development at rail stations.

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