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I-26: What Citizens Can Do
Editor’s Note: As your community network, MAIN seeks to provide information to empower civic participation and citizen involvement in public policy making. The following information and web links contain background information related to citizen involvement in major transportation projects such as the I-26 connector.
The NCDOT is controlled jointly by the Board of Transportation and the Transportation Secretary and is part of the North Carolina state government Executive Branch. The Board of Transportation is comprised of 15 citizen members appointed by the governor. All but one board member is responsible to a specific region of North Carolina. Buncombe County is in the 13th Division. The governor also appoints the Transportation Secretary.
According to the NCDOT website, their Community Impacts Section...
...is responsible for helping Project Planning Engineers include community concerns and values within the project development process. Preparation of Community Profiles and Community Impact Assessments are part of this process. When transportation projects may have adverse impacts on communities and citizens, we assist in trying to solve these problems through avoidance, minimization, mitigation or enhancements. Public input from scoping meetings and other public forums is considered during the assessment process.Citizens with concerns or comments about a project may contact Community Impact Assessments through Robert Deaton, (919) 733-7844, extn. 286, firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Owens, Professor of Law and Government at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Government, suggests that citizens submit input to both the Transportation Secretary and their district's board member.
Secretary of Transportation David McCoy
Division 13 Board of Transportation Member
However, Owens cautions that citizen input is not as strongly heeded as local government input. "Increasingly they [DOT officials] are being required to pay attention [to local governments]," he explained. Therefore, putting pressure on local officials to support community desires is crucial to turning around a project that is headed in an undesirable direction. Both City of Asheville and DOT officials will be present at the upcoming I-26 Design Forum.
The following comes from the NCDOT website.
An Overview of Community Impact Assessments
Community impact assessment is a [DOT] process to evaluate the effects of a transportation project on a community and its quality of life. The community impact 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 includes items of importance to people, such as mobility, safety, employment effects, relocation, and other community issues.
Within the NEPA process, the assessment serves a number of key roles:
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.
[Adapted from Community Impact Assessment - A Quick Reference for Transportation, FHWA, 1996]
Federal funds go to NCDOT, Federal TEA-21 provisions include:
Transportation enhancement activities continue to be funded through a 10 percent set aside from STP funds. In order to maximize the use of available TE funding, TEA-21 provides innovative financing alternatives for meeting matching requirements. The list of activities eligible for transportation enhancement funds is expanded, but all projects must relate to surface transportation. Newly eligible are safety education activities for pedestrians and bicyclists, establishment of transportation museums, and projects to reduce vehicle-caused wildlife mortality. Provision of tourist and welcome center facilities is specifically included under the already eligible activity "scenic or historic highway programs." In addition, 1 percent of the transit urbanized area formula funds distributed to areas with populations greater than 200,000 must be used for transit enhancement projects specified in the Act.
TEA-21 allows a State to transfer some of its TE funds to other programs. The maximum amount that may be transferred is up to 25 percent of the difference between the State’s current year TE set aside and the State’s FY 1997 TE set aside.
Bicycle Transportation and Pedestrian Walkways
TEA-21 continues and expands provisions to improve facilities and safety for bicycles and pedestrians. The eligibility of NHS funds is broadened to include pedestrian walkways, and safety and educational activities are now eligible for TE funds. Other changes ensure the consideration of bicyclists and pedestrians in the planning process and facility design.
Transportation and Community and System Preservation Pilot
The Transportation and Community and System Preservation Pilot program is a comprehensive initiative of research and grants to investigate the relationships between transportation and community and system preservation and private sector-based initiatives. States, local governments, and metropolitan planning organizations are eligible for discretionary grants to plan and implement strategies that improve the efficiency of the transportation system; reduce environmental impacts of transportation; reduce the need for costly future public infrastructure investments; ensure efficient access to jobs, services, and centers of trade; and examine private sector development patterns and investments that support these goals. A total of $120 million is authorized for this program for FYs 1999-2003.
… Other changes are included to further ensure the involvement of local officials, especially local officials in nonmetropolitan areas; strengthen the financial aspects of the planning process; and improve coordination, cooperation, and public involvement. …
Helpful Online Documents
The next two excerpts are from just two of several useful reports available at The Transportation for Livable Communities Network.
Take Back Your Streets: How to Protect Communities from Asphalt and Traffic
Portions of chapter three follow. The full text is available at http://www.tlcnetwork.org/street98.html.
The National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 actually provided a special mandate to respect "environmental, scenic, or historic values." The full text of 23 U.S.C. § 109(c), as amended by the 1995 Act, reads:
DESIGN CRITERIA FOR NATIONAL HIGHWAY SYSTEM.-
(1) IN GENERAL.-A design for new construction, reconstruction, resurfacing (except for maintenance resurfacing), restoration, or rehabilitation of a highway on the National Highway System (other than a highway also on the Interstate System) may take into account, in addition to the criteria described in subsection (a)- (A) the constructed and natural environment of the area; (B) the environmental, scenic, aesthetic, historic, community, and preservation impacts of the activity; and (C) access for other modes of transportation. (2) DEVELOPMENT OF CRITERIA.-The Secretary, in cooperation with State highway departments, may develop criteria to implement paragraph (1).
(23 U.S.C. § 103(c).)
Thus, even if state design rules apply, federal law provides for approval of projects on the NHS only if they meet this condition.
Laws Protecting Communities and the Environment
Nevertheless, projects in the pre-ISTEA spirit still emerge with disturbing frequency-projects intended simply to move more traffic faster, with little regard for the surroundings or needs of non-motorists, and designed more or less in cookbook fashion according to the AASHTO guidelines. ISTEA doesn't say that highway departments can't push such projects, and it doesn't establish any procedures for local citizens who object to them. It just removes FHWA as an arbiter of design questions and leaves those questions to the state and locality.
But other federal, state, and local laws provide opportunities for you to make the case that a proposed project will have unacceptable effects on your community and the environment, and to argue that a different design should be adopted. Some state laws allow the state or a locality to protect certain roads and their surroundings by designating them "scenic." Other federal and state laws protect resources such as parks, historic places, and wetlands, or require review of a project's overall environmental impact.
Under many of these laws, citizens have a right to comment in writing or to speak at a public meeting. Voicing your concerns to the agencies that administer the laws is important. Highway departments' initial proposals often pay little heed to these laws until they are made an issue. And unless the agencies that administer the laws hear from you and your neighbors, they may examine a project less carefully, not recognize all of its effects or discount them as insignificant, assume that the community supports the project, and issue the requested approval or permit. Citizen participation is frequently the reason that changes are made in a project to reduce or avoid harm to legally protected resources.
Roadwork is political business, and you cannot rely on a purely legal strategy to improve (or defeat) a proposed project. However, making the most of available review and permitting procedures is usually one part of a successful campaign against a bad project. The rest of this chapter summarizes federal laws that apply to road projects in all states. The appendix provides a review of relevant state laws.
The full text associated with the following excerpt is available at http://www.tlcnetwork.org/nyuart.html.
Restoring the Rule of Law and Respect for Communities in Transportation
by Stephen H. Burrington
… In Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, the Supreme Court upheld a community's right to provide its families "[a] quiet place where yards are wide, people few, and motor vehicles restricted." Some communities seek wide sidewalks rather than wide yards, and some want people to be numerous rather than scarce. But nearly all want effective protection from traffic. The need for that protection and the opportunity to provide it has never been greater….
North Carolina Department Of Transportation
Board of Transportation
NC Div. of Highways Administrator