by Taryn Oleson
R&M is assisting the City of Houston in conducting a Community Impact Assessment (CIA) in conjunction to the update of the City’s Comprehensive Plan. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough wrote the city’s Comprehensive Plan in 1999, and its amendment in 2003, so this is the first CIA and Comprehensive Plan revision actually conducted by City. Recent population growth, increased demand for services and major transportation infrastructure projects underway within or adjacent to Houston have prompted the City to prepare and plan for opportunities for change in the community’s infrastructure, economy and development. The CIA will assist the planning process by analyzing potential impacts major transportation projects may have on Houston and residents’ quality of life. The evaluation will allow the community to prepare for positive impacts, mitigate potential negative impacts, and assist Houston in maintaining its unique community character.
The process used to develop the CIA follows the process defined in the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) “Community Impact Assessment; A Quick Reference for Transportation.” The existing conditions in Houston are used as a baseline for considering impacts. Analysis of the relationship between the proposed transportation projects and the City of Houston consists of identifying and investigating impacts through 10 impact categories:
- social and psychological aspects;
- physical aspects;
- visual environment;
- land use;
- economic conditions;
- traffic and circulation;
- mobility and access;
- provision of public services;
- safety, displacement; and
- environmental justice.
Each category is assessed for direct (temporary and long-term), indirect and cumulative impacts for each alternative. Community goals and values identified through various public involvement outreach methods were considered whenever possible.
Four transportation alternatives are assessed in this CIA, including a No Build Alternative. The transportation alternatives were chosen based on their potential to have significant impacts on Houston, both positive and negative.
- The No Build scenario is evaluated for the direct and indirect impacts incurred without action or development and serves as a standard with which to compare impacts of action alternatives to.
- Alternative two is the Parks Highway Milepost 44-52 Upgrade. While the majority of the proposed upgrades are occurring outside City boundaries, the terminus of the project is within City boundaries and has the potential to impact land use, traffic and circulation, and economic conditions within Houston.
- Alternative three is the Port MacKenzie Rail Extension which will connect Port MacKenzie to the ARRC mainline north of Miller’s Reach Road in Houston.
- The fourth alternative analyzed is a conceptual Port MacKenzie to Parks Highway Roadway Corridor. The roadway corridor analyzed parallels the rail extension and is based on historical studies supporting development of the rail extension and the City of Houston’s 1982 Transportation Plan Map.
After analyzing each alternative using the FHWA-based methodology, minimal to null impacts were identified at large for the City of Houston. The Rail Extension and conceptual Port-to-Parks roadway corridor would have minimal impacts for Houston because they would be constructed on currently vacant land. Additional facilities supporting economic growth and development are not a planned part of the rail extension. Services and amenities necessary for local economic benefit due to increased traffic along the Parks Highway as a result of the Port-to-Parks roadway are not yet established. While the Parks Highway MP 44-52 Upgrade is proposed to improve travel time throughout that corridor, it does not have cumulative impacts to land use or development within Houston, according to FHWA guidelines. Significant adverse impacts were not identified for any alternative.
Despite a lack of short-term direct impacts, community members and identified stakeholders believe Houston is poised for expansion and has the right attributes to turn the community into a place that would attract residents, new business and visitors. While the alternatives assessed may not directly produce a significant change in the community, the long-term cumulative impacts have the potential to be significant. Changes in land use and traffic volumes may encourage new business development, bring more residents and the Rail Extension could provide a more attractive market for industrial and natural resource development. Houston is becoming a key connection point for material good,s as well as people traveling between Interior and Southcentral Alaska, and providing greater growth potential for the City. It should be expected that the City will continue to experience steady population growth and see an increase in the potential for economic development. Maintenance of Houston’s unique community character will need to be a priority when considering development action,s as well as compliance with the goals and policies defined by the City of Houston’s Comprehensive Plan. If new developments or information emerge pertaining to the alternatives assessed in this CIA, additional analysis will be conducted in order to provide the most reasonably to-date analysis on anticipated impacts for the City of Houston.
Taryn Oleson joined the R&M team as a Planner in August 2014. Taryn specializes in land use, transportation and community planning. She has coordinated a variety of public involvement programs, including those for long range comprehensive and transportation planning projects. Experienced in web and graphic design programs, Taryn communicates with the public through a variety of formats, including project websites, handouts, open houses, presentation and workshops. She has designed and conducted surveys, presented project information to community and governmental organizations, coordinated stakeholder interviews and facilitated advisory groups. She is skilled in policy analysis and compliance, including local, regional and state plans and policies. Taryn is currently serving as planner and public involvement coordinator for the City of Houston’s Community Impact Assessment and Comprehensive Plan Revision and multiple CSS transportation projects. She has also provided planning and public involvement support on the AMATS Travel Demand Model and Household Travel Surveys and is involved in the public involvement effort for the 27th
Avenue Pedestrian Safety Improvements project. Taryn holds a B.S. in Environmental Policy and Planning from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.