How we investigate the history of freeway displacement

How we investigate the history of freeway displacement

To report on people who have lost their homes to motorway construction in the modern era, the Times analyzed data that has been submitted annually by states to the FDA since 1991.

The total number of homes we have – more than 82,000 homes – is an incomplete tally because many states do not consistently report how many homes have been destroyed each year due to highway construction, despite federal regulations. The average household size in the United States is 2.6, and the Times used this number to estimate that over 200,000 residents have been displaced.

National data does not disaggregate travel by car project. Prior to construction, federal guidelines require state transportation departments to assess the amount of travel the project will entail and determine whether it will have a disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic residents. However, there are no rules to keep track of who and how much moved after the road was built.

To assess the racial and ethnic implications, reporters requested travel data for the largest projects since 1991 in the five states that reported the most travel: California, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Mississippi. The Times has identified the largest projects as those in which 100 or more households have been relocated. Reporters also requested databases, maps, and environmental impact and resettlement reports from each of these states. More than 6,300 families have been affected by 22 such projects, according to government transport agencies.

Using data from the United States Census Bureau, The Times calculated the proportion of blacks, Hispanics, and other non-whites in groups of census blocks or sections directly intersected by highway projects.

If the project crossed a predominantly non-white area or if the share of non-white residents in the project area exceeded the share in neighboring counties by more than 10 percentage points, the project was considered disproportionate. This approach follows the guidelines used by the US Department of Transportation and the California Department of Transportation.

The analysis found that nearly two-thirds of more than 6,300 families were displaced due to projects that disproportionately affected communities of color. To test its methodology, The Times consulted with academic experts researching racial inequality and America’s interstate highway system.

The projects analyzed by the Times have been largely concentrated in recent years due to the limited historical data held in the states. Agencies also did not keep track of some highway projects that could lead to significant displacement. For example, the Texas Department of Transportation did not know how many families were forced to leave their homes to make way for two toll roads in the Dallas area in recent decades because these projects were partnerships with private companies.

The Times based its analysis on actual travel data provided by government transportation agencies and relevant agencies.
with the exception of the multi-state expansion project in downtown Houston, which is ongoing, and the expansion of Interstate 5 in Orange County, California, in which State Department of Transportation officials contributed to your estimates.


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