Testimony of Richard Stolz
Deputy Director of Public Policy
Center for Community Change
On behalf of the Transportation Equity Network
On behalf of the Center for Community Change and the Transportation Equity Network, I am pleased to submit testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the topic of Smart Growth and Transportation Planning. I commend the Chairman and the Committee on its decision to hold a hearing on this important topic.
The Center for Community Change is a 30-year old national non-profit organization deeply rooted in low-income and minority communities in both urban and rural areas. Our mission is to help grassroots organizations build and improve their capacity to effect the policies that impact the day-to-day lives of their membership.
The Transportation Equity Network (TEN) is a national coalition of grassroots organizations based in low-income and minority communities organizing to reform transportation policies at the local, regional, statewide and national level. TEN’s membership includes faith-based networks of congregations, community organizing projects, community development corporations, social service organizations, civil rights groups, organizations of transit riders and other low-income people, and progressive transportation agencies. TEN groups are active in more than thirty states and TEN includes dozens of organizational members and affiliates.
In 1997 – 1998, the Center and TEN worked closely with members of Congress and a coalition of allies in Washington, DC to include several provisions related to transportation planning in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21):
· A requirement that Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) provide to the public an annual list of projects for which federal funds have been obligated.
· A public involvement requirement in the statute in the MPO certification process.
· A provision that ensures that transit users are consulted in the statewide and metropolitan transportation planning process.
· The newly created Job Access and Reverse Commute competitive grant program.
As Congress renews TEA-21, the Center and TEN urge Congress to pay particular attention to the impact of transportation planning and investment on low-income and minority communities, and to establish strategies for using surface transportation legislation to support the revitalization of rural and urban communities and regional economies. The Center also reminds Congress that more work is needed to ensure that the nation’s transportation planning system is fully accountable and transparent to taxpayers.
From the perspective of low-income and minority communities, particularly in metropolitan urban areas, sprawl has a particularly pernicious and deleterious impact. A growing body of research, and an emerging consensus among researchers and advocates, asserts that in metropolitan areas, the relationship between the concentrated poverty of central city communities and the relative affluence of suburban enclaves is not coincidental.
According to john a. powell of the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota, “Sprawl and regional fragmentation on the one hand, and concentrated poverty and social inequity on the other hand, are flip sides of the same dynamic.” The same factors that push and pull families away from urban centers and to the suburbs trap the families left behind. Those able to leave have the human and financial capital to do so. They leave for better jobs, better schools and they invest their financial capital in property likely to increase in value. Those left behind must deal with struggling schools, less human capital and fewer financial resources.
powell goes on to explain that the federal government defines concentrated poverty as a census tract with 40 percent or greater of its residents living below the poverty level. This is significant because joblessness, blight, crime, and other circumstances destructive to families characterize concentrated poverty. Central city communities, which are more likely to hold areas of concentrated poverty, therefore carry the burden of having to address more social problems, which serve to push out more families that can afford to leave. As a result, these communities often lack the tax base necessary to address the social ills that plague them.
There is a further layer to concentrated poverty – race. Of those living in concentrated poverty, more than half are African American (note that African Americans make up only 12 percent of the national population), and a quarter are Hispanic. While the reasons behind the stark residential race and class segregation in America’s metropolitan regions are complex, the reality is unavoidable. Paul Jargowski, as he writes in Poverty and Place: Ghettos, Barrios, and the American City, is on solid ground when he explains that “neighborhood poverty is not primarily the product of the people who live there or a ghetto culture that discourages upward mobility, but the predictable result of the economic status of minority communities and the degree to which minorities are residentially segregated from whites and from each other by income.” Sprawl both contributes to and facilitates this residential segregation.
Since sprawl and its counterpart, concentrated poverty, must be analyzed in tandem in order to more fully understand the impact of willy nilly suburban growth, it stands to reason that Smart Growth also has a counterpart: equal access to economic opportunity. The Transportation Equity Network believes that any effort undertaken in the name of Smart Growth that fails to address concentrated poverty and does not advance equal access to economic opportunity is inadequate. For example, Smart Growth strategies that encourage economic development in central city communities should be mindful on the impact of such development on the availability of affordable housing. And strategies that seek to protect environmental treasures on the edges of suburban growth should also be mindful of the need to improve access to economic opportunity in areas of concentrated poverty.
In metropolitan regions across the country, experience has shown that suburban development often follows road and highway construction. As Dr. Susan Handy of the University of Texas concluded in 1999 (also quoted in testimony by Tom Downs from the University of Maryland) “Building new highways will not increase the rate of growth [in metropolitan regions], but will influence where in a region growth occurs and what kind of growth occurs.” While she goes on to say that not building highways will not necessarily prevent decentralization, her conclusion does suggest that growth follows highway development, and may do so at the expense of other areas within a metropolitan region.
In the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) Congress laid the groundwork for significant reform in the transportation planning process by establishing the metropolitan planning process. As such, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, which are often the only governmental entities in a particular place with regional jurisdiction, can play a very significant role with respect to Smart Growth. Furthermore, because transportation investments play such a large role in determining the nature of growth in metropolitan regions, the choices made by MPOs have lasting impacts on the growth patterns of metropolitan regions.
In 1999, the issue of Smart Growth and equal access to economic opportunity came to a head in northwest Indiana. That was when a coalition of African-American, White and Latino congregations named the Interfaith Federation publicly challenged the planning practices of the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) on both moral and legal grounds.
Northwest Indiana, which includes the cities of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, is one of the most racially segregated metropolitan regions in the country. It is also a region characterized by both sprawl and concentrated poverty. Gary, Hammond and East Chicago have all three experienced declines in population following the collapse of the manufacturing and steel industries over the last three decades. These cities are largely low-income, have relatively high property taxes, and share symptoms of urban decay, including failing schools and high rates of unemployment. Around these cities lies an extensive network of suburban communities of varying degrees of affluence, and they grow in affluence the further away they get.
The Interfaith Federation complained that NIRPC had contributed to the decline of the region’s central cities by placing undue emphasis on the construction and expansion of roads and highways, while neglecting the needs of residents living in areas of concentrated poverty. All three cities are located in the northern half of Lake County, Indiana. Over the last decade, the region’s job growth has taken place in the southern half of Lake County. The transit-dependent residents of Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago had no way of accessing areas of high job growth in south county by public transportation.
While some may contend that the Interfaith Federation had challenged NIRPC on grounds that were beyond the MPO’s control, it was certainly clear that NIRPC had entirely neglected the region’s neediest residents and had failed its neediest jurisdictions. In response to the Interfaith Federation’s concerns, NIRPC contended that it had done nothing wrong. The Interfaith Federation, undeterred, pointed to several regulations and provisions of federal law that the MPO had ignored. The Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration, after lengthy deliberation, concurred with the Interfaith Federation, and conditionally certified NIRPC’s planning process. The FHWA also provided NIRPC with a discretionary grant to help it better plan for the needs of low-income and minority communities under its jurisdiction.
Though ISTEA and TEA-21 both represent enormous improvements in the national transportation planning landscape compared to what existed before, from the perspective of low-income and minority communities, ISTEA and TEA-21 represent a mixed bag.
A case in point is Miami, Florida. In the late 1960s portions of unincorporated Dade County were vibrant African American communities with strong local economies and solid middle class families. The state tragically steam-rolled these communities at the end of that decade when the state built Interstate 95 right through many of these neighborhoods. Not only were families and business displaced, but also over the ensuing decades declining property values and other symptoms of social decay took hold. This is a story not unique to Miami-Dade County. Similar stories can be found in Montgomery, Alabama; Los Angeles, California; Atlanta, Georgia, and other cities across the country.
In the 1990s the state further stripped these communities of their dignity by widening the I-95 corridor to within feet of people’s homes and erecting wire meshed fencing to protect these households from highway noise and traffic. Residents endured years of house-rattling noise, cars rolling into their back yards, shrapnel from exploding tires and fear, and constant phone calls to state transportation and locally elected officials led to no improvements.
Finally in 2001, an organization of local residents named Neighborhoods in Action (NIA) organized to get the attention of the State’s regional Department of Transportation office. Only after NIA invoked the term “environmental justice” did the DOT act in a responsive manner. In a matter of months, the state of Florida constructed a mitigation wall to protect residents of unincorporated Miami-Dade County from both noise and physical harm.
Ironically, NIA discovered at about that time that the mitigation wall had been written into the MPO’s TIP for years, but had simply been skipped over every year. They also discovered that similar sound walls had long since been built along I-95 to protect other more affluent communities. Though in the end the structure of ISTEA and TEA-21 helped to encourage the state DOT to do the right thing, clearly the state had not made the needs of these communities a priority.
But this is not an a-typical situation. Robert Bullard and Glenn Johnson of the Environmental Justice Resource Center (EJRC) have written extensively of the impact of transportation planning that fails to consider the needs of low-income and minority communities.
For instance, the EJRC reports that the pedestrian fatality rate for people of color is higher than that for whites. One explanation for the difference in rates is the difference in walking patterns among different racial groups. For example, African Americans walk 82 percent more than whites, while Hispanics walk 58 percent more than non-Hispanic whites (US Department of Transportation, 1997).
Also consider that asthma, which is a leading cause of disability among children in the United States, is more likely to strike inner city, and therefore, minority children. The hospitalization rate due to asthma is three to four times higher among black children than white children. Pollution from automobiles, and the proximity of roads and congestion to low-income communities is believed to be a factor in asthma prevalence among minority children.
But transportation inequity is not only about race, though race is a significant factor. In Driven To Spend, a report released by the Surface Transportation Policy Project and the Center for Neighborhood Technology in 2000, researchers found that transportation (the cost of an automobile, its maintenance and other costs) often rivaled the cost of housing for low-income families. The report also found that the greater degree of sprawl in a metropolitan area, the greater the cost of owning and maintaining an automobile.
Then there are those households that lack automobiles. According to the 2000 census, more than 10 percent of the American public does not own an automobile, and are dependent on transit or other sources of transportation besides a personal automobile to get around. This number is likely to increase as the nation’s population continues to age, and more and more of us eventually succumb to various physical and mental disabilities and impairments.
Transportation equity, in contrast, is about ensuring that all communities enjoy access to economic opportunity, and that no community is unfairly burdened with negative economic and environmental impacts. Transportation equity is also about ensuring that planning processes are fully transparent, accountable and accessible to the general public. Congress should strive to ensure that every federal dollar spent on transportation carries with it the principle of transportation equity.
Transportation is a daily struggle for many Americans. This challenge is particular acute for low-income people and working families that lack access to safe, reliable and timely public transportation and cannot afford private car ownership. The low wage labor market is often unforgiving for hard-working breadwinners unable to get to work on time, if at all. For families on welfare who face federally imposed work requirements and time limits, the inability to get to jobs due to transportation, could render these families ineligible for public assistance as well as leave them unemployed.
An example of an innovative Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program is in Columbus, Ohio. The project was driven by a coalition of churches called Building Responsibility Equality And Dignity (BREAD), which realized early on the potential of the JARC program enacted in TEA-21.
BREAD partnered with the Central Ohio Transit Authority and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, the City of Columbus, the Federal Transit Administration, and the county welfare office to establish a new transit hub in a low-income community in Columbus that is home to a large public housing project. The transit hub, which drew funds from a number of sources, featured express bus service to areas of high job growth in the suburbs, including feeder bus service that could take riders closer to their work sites. The transit hub itself also co-located child care services and job referral and training support services so that it could simultaneously meet the multiple needs of this community.
As demonstrated by the Columbus example, one of the JARC program’s most innovative features is its emphasis on collaboration among various stakeholders, including transportation, welfare, and housing agencies and the affected community.
Although most low-income people may want cars, the reality of car-ownership can undermine the aspirations of families seeking to make a better life for themselves and their children. For many poor families trying to work their way out of poverty, car ownership is expensive and does little to generate equity over time, and the cost of owning a car can place other important wealth-generating assets, like homes, out of reach. But if a family is without a reliable vehicle and beyond the range of mass transportation – whether publicly or privately operated – that family will be economically, socially and culturally isolated. In rural communities, the circumstances are even worse. Forty percent of rural counties lack public transit, and 36 percent of all rural residents are considered transit dependent.
Residents of large cities often forget that in smaller communities public transportation systems tend to be less well funded and receive fewer planning resources. But even in large cities, bus service may not accommodate the needs of second or third shift workers, or be able to accommodate the multiple trips mothers may need to take to get their children to childcare on the way to work.
The Center for Community Change and the Transportation Equity Network have developed a great deal of experience working with and in some instances pressuring MPOs to reform their planning practices. Over the last six years, the Center has gathered a good deal of information about MPOs. The nearly 400 MPOs across the nation represent a very mixed bag of both good and bad practice. Certainly, experience has shown that though MPOs – as all layers of government – often request less oversight from the federal government, some oversight is inevitably necessary. The transportation planning process is one example of where lack of accountability and standard minimum expectations has harmed the public interest.
In 1998, Congress enacted several provisions in TEA-21 related to the metropolitan transportation planning process. The Transportation Equity Network focused on three:
1) The first was an annual listing of projects for which federal funds had been obligated in the prior year. The intent of this provision is to increase the degree of transparency in the transportation planning process by creating a tool by which the public can ascertain how federal funds are spent in their metropolitan region, and thereby determine funding patterns in metropolitan regions over time. A survey conducted of a diverse sample of MPOs found that five years after the law was enacted:
· Approximately 80 percent of MPOs surveyed had an annual list of projects;
· Many MPOs were still having difficulty gathering data on project obligations because a) states were not willingly sharing the data; or b) non-compatible data collection or coding systems within states made this a very time consuming process;
· Some MPOs felt that additional information would make the list a more useful planning tool.
The survey and experience has also revealed that MPOs vary significantly with respect to capacity. Many MPOs lack necessary staffing resources and expertise in various kinds of data collection. Furthermore, many MPOs had staff who were unaware of various TEA-21 requirements, including the annual listing of projects.
Having said that, there are a number of items that would make the annual list of projects a more effective planning tool. The first would be to geographically code projects in both the TIP and the annual list; this would allow these projects to be readily mapped using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology. The second would be to include more project data, including the point at which the project is in the project development and construction process. The list should also be more clearly marked within the TIP, or separated from the TIP as a distinct document so that it might be more visible and easy to find.
2) The second provision added the term “transit user” to the list of stakeholder groups that must be consulted in the metropolitan and statewide transportation planning process.
Over the last five years, the Center has examined the public involvement programs of a broad range of MPOs. In too many instances, the MPO has been found lacking.
· During a certification review conducted by the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration in 2001, the Montgomery, Alabama MPO deliberately misled federal officials and the public by claiming that it had a Citizen Advisory Council (CAC). In fact, while the MPO had a provision for a CAC on the books, it had never convened one. While federal law does not mandate CACs, the FTA and FHWA do consider them a recommended planning practice. Months later, after the MPO did convene a CAC, the MPO refused to provide it with any resources making it impossible for the CAC to conduct business.
· When community representatives from Jackson, Mississippi approached their MPO in person to request a copy of their TIP, several MPO officials refused to provide it. Similarly, when residents of Baton Rouge, Louisiana approached their State DOT to request a copy of the State Transportation Improvement Program, DOT officials unblinkingly informed them that there was no such document.
These are three particularly egregious examples of how MPOs, as well as states, have failed to take the public involvement provisions of TEA-21 seriously. On the other hand, many MPOs are very responsive to requests for information, and have invested a great deal of time in building public trust in their planning activities.
· The Birmingham, Alabama Metropolitan Planning Organization is admired by communities across the South for the role it has established for its Citizen Advisory Council, and its efforts to provide the public with opportunities to participate in alternative transportation analyses. The MPO also has a Public Involvement Plan, another FHWA/FTA recommended practice, with which it may be held accountable by the CAC and the general public.
Over the last several years, the Center and TEN have learned that MPOs tend to have better public involvement processes when a strong community presence is there willing to agitate them to improve. Experience has also shown that early and broad-based community outreach and public involvement can ease the transportation planning process, and greatly improve it, over both the short and long term.
3) A third provision established a statutory requirement for public involvement in the certification process, by which the FHWA and FTA review the planning processes of MPOs.
Though this provision applies to metropolitan planning, in some ways it provides some insight into the role of the FHWA and FTA in the metropolitan planning process. In the certification process, the FHWA and FTA are required to examine an MPO’s planning practices every three years to determine whether or not the MPO is appropriately addressing planning factors and requirements in federal regulations, TEA-21, civil rights law, air quality requirements, and other federal law. As a digression, the Center and TEN have found a number of shortcomings at both FTA and FHWA.
· In 1999 the Center for Community Change submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FTA to provide recently filed certification reports. At the time, there was no central depository for certification reports at FTA or FHWA. Neither agency had any way of standardizing how it approached implementation of the various planning requirements in TEA-21. Nor could FTA and FHWA make any effort to assess its own effectiveness with respect to implementing this provision of federal law.
· The FTA and FHWA, for their own part, tend to be rather obscure institutions. Advocacy organizations, researchers and community residents seeking information on the status of projects, trends in state funding behavior, levels of unobligated balances, and other information are likely to be given reams of hard copy print outs of indecipherable tables. As such, unless an outsider – let alone a DOT employee – intends to spend an inordinate amount of time pouring through numbers, there is no reasonable way to accurately compare the behavior of a state with other states, and it is often overly taxing to even make simple judgments on how much money states have spent on particular projects. That same researcher may or may not have an easier time gathering similar data at the state level, where some data collection systems almost seem designed to create confusion and obscure accountability.
With respect to the certification process, there are a number of factors that can be improved in order to improve FHWA and FTA performance, as well as MPO planning performance.
· MPOs are consistently uncertain about what they should be expected to do to conduct an appropriate examination of social equity or environmental justice impact on low-income and minority communities. The FHWA and FTA allow a great deal of ambiguity, and as a result have no set standard against which to judge effective planning with respect to low-income and minority communities. This has led to greater tension between transportation planners and community residents frustrated with moving targets and confusing messages.
· Since FHWA and FTA are primarily responsible for conducting certification reviews, there should be a minimum expectation laid upon FHWA and FTA for what should be considered an appropriate public involvement process in certification reviews. Such consistency will serve to improve public confidence in the metropolitan transportation planning process and serve to model best practices for MPOs.
4) In addition to these issues, there are governance-related questions that need clarification in federal law.
· The relationship between tribal governments and state DOTs and MPOs. In all circumstances, tribal governments should be treated as sovereign entities, but they should also be consulted early and often in all decision-making processes that may impact on their land, population or infrastructure.
· The matter of one person-one vote. It seems unreasonable that in some metropolitan areas, a community 1/10th the size of the largest city in a metropolitan region has voting power equal to the largest city. While some MPOs have implemented a number of schemes to weight voting power, the federal government should clarify the principle that larger jurisdictions should have more say in the transportation planning process.
The principle of environmental justice is vitally important in federal transportation law and transportation planning. Environmental justice, which is grounded in federal Civil Rights Law, is important not only because it establishes a coherent vision that seeks to protect low-income and minority communities from environmental harms, but also because it fully acknowledges the role of income as well as race in unjust planning practices. Furthermore, environmental justice does not simply apply to public involvement processes. The goal of environmental justice, as articulated by the Center and by TEN, is the commitment that those communities that have suffered most will soon get the resources they need to revitalize themselves. Environmental Justice must be seen as a tool or criteria by which planning agencies prioritize the importance of projects or the need to re-examine them.
The Center for Community Change and the Transportation Equity Network urge the Committee to consider the following recommendations. A more detailed set of legislative proposals is forthcoming. In the interim, the following are intended to create dialogue.
1) Public Involvement
· Congress should set aside a fund for community involvement by grassroots organization stakeholders in the transportation planning process. These resources would help pay for the cost of programs for MPOs and States to train interested parties in the transportation planning process, and would be re-granted to community-based organizations to support community outreach efforts. Such a fund would help MPOs and States meet their public involvement and environmental justice obligations.
· Congress should earmark some funds for a planning initiative to create a “Best of the Best” reserve fund. FHWA and FTA would use such a fund to provide financial incentives for innovative and effective community outreach.
· Congress should establish a minimum set of expectations for all MPOs and States with respect to their public involvement practices. For example, all MPOs should have a Citizen Advisory Council, a Public Involvement Plan, and a requirement that comments formally submitted by interested parties must be fully addressed by MPOs or States prior to the publishing of key decision documents. The latter is a process already utilized by the Atlanta Regional Council and commonly used in public comment processes related to important public documents at both the federal, state and local level.
2) Research, Data & Accountability
· MPOs should be required to maintain demographic profiles (ace, rage, income) of the metropolitan planning area. This information would be used to identify locations of socioeconomic groups, including low-income and minority populations. These profiles should be used to develop base maps and other planning and modeling tools to assess the impact of current transportation services and programs on low-income and minority communities.
· Congress should establish a multi-year process by which surveys, data gathering tools and other measurement tools will be modified to more accurately reflect the populations that both use and are impacted by various kinds of transportation investments. Similarly, Congress should require a greater degree of consistency across data sets held at both the local, metropolitan, state and federal levels to ensure better coordination among layers of government. Furthermore, all projects in new TIPs, Annual Lists and related documents should be geographically coded to facilitate GIS mapping.
· Congress should exercise its role as the steward of federal resources by strengthening public accountability in the transportation planning process. While the drive to streamline transportation planning and project delivery processes may be difficult to resist, regionally significant and controversial transportation projects must be justified against economic and environmental criteria in a thorough manner.
3) Smart Growth & Access to Economic Opportunity
· Congress should create a new Transit Oriented Development & Economic Revitalization Incentive Fund that provides local communities with a monetary incentive for locating mixed-income housing, business, and retail developments near public transportation centers.
· Congress should create various incentives for encouraging cooperation – shared data, coordinated planning, and project implementation – among transportation agencies, welfare agencies, workforce investment boards, and housing agencies to most effectively meet the needs of low-income families.
· Congress should establish goals, performance measures, and benchmarks for employment transportation in the metropolitan and statewide transportation planning processes with public input. There should also be stronger mechanisms for accountability and transparency to evaluate the responsiveness of state DOTs to community input and these economic objectives.
In conclusion, I hope that the Committee will find these comments to be helpful as it develops its own proposals for reauthorization. Though the issues confronting low-income and minority communities are often not seen as transportation issues per se, such prejudices are inaccurate. Research and experience place poverty and race clearly at the center, rather than the margins, of transportation planning and project delivery. On behalf of the Transportation Equity Network, I urge the Committee to view transportation reauthorization in this light.
 “How Sprawl Makes Us Poor” by john a. powell in The Albuquerque Journal, March 22, 2002.
 Poverty and Place: Ghettos, Barrios and the American City. Paul Jargowski. 1997.
 This material is covered in greater detail in Policy Brief: Transportation and Access to Jobs. Center for Community Change & STPP. 2002. [Draft]
 Status of Rural Public Transportation. Federal Transit Administration. 2000-2001
 Getting on Track. Center for Community Change. 2000.