How we investigate the history of road displacement

How We Investigate The History Of Road Displacement

To report on people who have lost their homes to highway projects in modern times, the Times has been analyzing data provided by states to the Federal Highway Administration every year since 1991.

The total we have — more than 82,000 homes — is an incomplete count because many states have not consistently reported how many homes are destroyed each year for highway projects, despite federal guidelines. The average household size in the United States is 2.6 people, and the Times used that number to estimate that more than 200,000 residents were displaced.

National figures do not split journeys per road project. Before construction takes place, federal guidelines require state transportation departments to estimate how much travel a project will incur and determine whether it will disproportionately affect Black and Latino residents. However, there are no such rules to keep track of who and how many were displaced after the road has been built.

To assess the racial and ethnic impact, reporters asked for displacement rates of the largest projects since 1991 in the five states that reported the highest number of displacements: California, North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Mississippi. The Times defined the largest projects as those that displaced 100 or more households. The reporters also requested databases, maps and environmental impact and displacement reports from each of those states. Data from the state’s transportation departments showed that 22 such projects affected more than 6,300 families.

Using data from the US Census Bureau, The Times calculated the proportion of black, Latino and other non-white residents in groups of census blocks or stretches directly criss-crossed by highway projects.

If a project crossed a predominantly non-white area or if the proportion of non-white residents in the project area exceeded the proportion in surrounding counties by more than 10 percentage points, that project was considered to have a disproportionate effect. This approach follows guidelines used by the United States Department of Transportation and the California Department of Transportation.

The analysis found that nearly two-thirds of more than 6,300 families were displaced by projects that disproportionately impact communities of color. To validate the methodology, The Times consulted academic experts researching racial inequalities and the American highway system.

The projects analyzed by the Times were largely concentrated in the most recent years because of the limitations of the historical records kept by the states. The agencies also failed to keep records of some highway projects with the potential for significant displacement. The Texas Department of Transportation, for example, didn’t know how many families were forced out of their homes in recent decades to make way for two toll roads in the Dallas area, because the projects were partnerships with private companies.

The Times based its analysis on actual travel figures from the state’s transportation departments and related agencies,
except in the case of the multi-state expansion project in downtown Houston, which is underway, and the Interstate 5 expansion in Orange County, California, where State Department of Transportation officials have eased your estimates.

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