Reaching out to communities early and following up throughout the transportation project planning process is key to building equity. That’s among the takeaways from HDR’s latest “Experts Talk” interview, in which Cathy LaFata shares insights on the environmental justice process and strategies for improving community engagement. She is the Northern California Transportation Planning Section Manager and a Professional Associate at HDR.
Environmental justice analysis is required for federally funded projects as part of the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process. The goal, LaFata said, is to provide “a voice to those who have historically been underserved.”
She pointed out that it’s important for project teams to understand the affected communities—from knowing what languages are spoken there (and ensuring transportation planning materials are provided in those languages, for example) to meeting people “where they are” and partnering with community-based organizations to learn about needs and concerns.
Outreach is often conducted in person, but COVID-19 has moved much of it online. “We host web-based live chats, and for those without internet access, we have conducted telephone town halls,” LaFata said.
She provided an example: Through two recent telephone town halls for a San Francisco Bay Area rail project, HDR learned that people from different immigrant communities were angry. “The project team got together the next day to discuss the issues and started to address them,” LaFata said. “We may not be able to address all concerns, but [by] hearing all voices, we were able to take early actions that will ultimately make this a better project.”
For more of the interview, click here.
In other HDR news, Rashed Islam has been named Transportation Director of the Central Region, which stretches from Canada to Mexico and spans the U.S. from Indiana to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Islam will help coordinate HDR’s transportation work, covering highways and roads, transit, aviation, ports and maritime, and freight rail and federal transport.