The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) Program is a nationally prominent rail-infrastructure program. It is managed by the unique partnership of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, Metra, Amtrak, Association of American Railroads, and six of the nation’s Class I freight railroads. The CREATE 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project (CIP) received a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Record of Decision in September 2014. As a result of 75th Street CIP and other completed preliminary engineering and project environmental reviews within the 70 rail-improvements program, CREATE has set a national-policy example with regard to mitigation under the environmental justice Executive Order (EO) 12898. This article provides some background on the CREATE Program and examines the development of the CREATE Environmental Justice Policy. It describes the impetus for creating the policy, namely noise impacts on low-income and minority populations resulting from the 75
th Street CIP and other CREATE Program rail projects. This article also discusses the extensive coordination among Federal and State agencies, among the public and private CREATE partners, and among Community Advisory Groups and residents, all of which led to the specific mitigations addressed in the CREATE environmental justice policy. The result of these encompassing efforts, led by Federal Highway Administration and the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Division of Public and Intermodal Transportation, is a precedent-setting framework for analyzing and, when necessary, mitigating the potential environmental justice impacts of the CREATE Program rail projects. The CREATE Environmental Justice Policy is precedent setting in a few ways: (a) it establishes policy where none currently exists and where existing highway-oriented policies do not seem appropriate or applicable; (b) it provides greater specificity with regard to what mitigation measures are “practicable” to address predicted noise impacts of CREATE Program rail projects on low-income and minority populations; (c) it clarifies the lead agencies’ intent to maintain the transportation linkage and focus when developing and evaluating practicable mitigation measures for other (i.e., non-noise) impacts; and (d) it helps assure the equity of the transportation investment by better balancing the distribution of burdens and benefits at the project level. This article identifies the steps, when considering disproportionately high and adverse impacts to low-income and/or minority populations, on how to evaluate other practicable mitigation measures with merit under EO 12898. This article also describes the lessons learned and the dialogue necessary to receive broad support from the CREATE partners for both needed rail improvements and additional mitigations to provide offsetting benefits and opportunities to enhance Chicago-area communities, neighborhoods, and residents’ quality of life.
Environmental Practice 17: 256–269 (2015)