Doing the Right Thing: Building a Road and Preserving a Community—The Newtown Pike Extension Project
|Rental housing along DeRoode Street looking north to the West High Street viaduct in 2014. Rental housing includes two fourplexes, two duplexes, and two single-family homes that were funded in part by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.|
Across the United States, roadway projects have often devastated disadvantaged neighborhoods, which makes the story of the Newtown Pike Extension Project (NPEP) in Lexington, KY, unique. As early as 1931 road and park construction were suggested as catalysts to improve housing in an area that included a historical low-income neighborhood, Davis Bottom (DB). Road construction designs from the 1950s and 1970s were proposed that would have paved over DB. After those efforts failed, a 1997 revival of the NPEP and a subsequent 2007 agreement ensured a just outcome for the DB neighborhood. As a member of the NPEP team put it, “This is a story of conflict and resolution between a government highway project and a disenfranchised, diverse, low-income historic neighborhood that does not end in tragedy or frustration.”
DB was built around 1865. In 1880, the U.S. Census officially recognized DB, recording the early diversity of the neighborhood where the population was 69 percent Black and 31 percent white. In 1931, the city of Lexington’s Comprehensive Plan first suggested that building streets, parks, and schools in neighborhoods, including DB, might improve dilapidated housing. In 1958, a road project was proposed to extend two interstates into downtown, slating the DB neighborhood for destruction. This proposal was abandoned. The community was threatened again in 1971 when an extension of Newtown Pike was planned that would displace 140 DB families. Because construction of Rupp Arena, a sporting venue, had recently demolished an adjoining neighborhood, residents got strong support from the larger Lexington community. Although a city task force recommended that the cost of replacement housing be included as part of the road project, the entire effort was canceled. As a result, mistrust of any roadway plan became ingrained in the DB community.
By 1997, as urban growth and traffic congestion in Lexington became pressing concerns, city and State representatives along with transportation professionals revived the NPEP. In 2000, the project became a part of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s (KYTC) Six-Year Highway Plan.
|At the right is rental and ownership housing in Davis Park created by the NPEP and the Lexington Community Land Trust to replace previous homes in DB, a neighborhood dating back to 1865.|
Early environmental analysis revealed a variety of potential negative impacts of the NPEP. Unlike previous attempts, transportation professionals at the time had new laws (The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, Title Ⅵ of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order (EO) 12898 of 1994, and the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (the Uniform Act)) and innovative methods to protect vulnerable communities. NEPA requires Federal agencies to integrate environmental considerations into their decision-making processes. EO 12898 ensures that minority and low-income populations do not experience disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects from Federal programs, policies, and activities. The EO also ensures that environmental justice analysis is included in a NEPA review process. Title Ⅵ of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that any entity receiving Federal funds or financial assistance does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity. The Uniform Act provides payments to aid people who move because of Federal or Federally assisted projects. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is the lead agency for implementing the provisions of the Uniform Act and has issued regulations in 49 CFR part 24. This project also integrated anthropology with engineering to engage and build trust with the local community.
From the beginning, the NPEP team faced numerous challenges, including protecting DB from high-end development, preserving its cohesion and history, gaining trust of local residents, addressing environmental contaminants, and providing affordable replacement housing. The project team anticipated the entire project corridor would be economically impacted by the proposed NPEP due to market-rate influence on land values. The residents of DB would be least able to cope with any increases in land values. The pressure of market-rate infiltration would intensify because many residents were renters. Landlords would seize the opportunity to raise rents or turn to more lucrative commercial land uses, with either option forcing out current renters. Homeowners would likely be forced out due to increases in property taxes. Without some form of protection, land use in the neighborhood would continue its progression towards either high-end residential or commercial and light industrial development, consistent with the zoning in place during the time of the NEPA analysis. Unless industrial zoning was removed in this neighborhood, it was unlikely that would it be rezoned as a residential neighborhood. The team’s concern was that as the neighborhood became more commercially developed, it was less likely that existing residents, both homeowners and renters, would be able to continue to live there or that new affordable housing would be constructed in the area. Without some sort of mitigation plan, the project’s cumulative effect would be the loss of an entire community.
The Record of Decision (ROD), approved by FHWA, KYTC, and the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) in 2007, cemented the NPEP plan to extend the Newtown Pike in a just and equitable fashion. After a long history beginning in the 1950s of flawed and unsuccessful planning, this agreement—along with extensive community member involvement—promised to build a road and rebuild the DB neighborhood. The roadway project planned to improve downtown traffic conditions, the downtown pedestrian and bicycling environment, access to the University of Kentucky (UK), and the quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods, all without placing an undue burden on a minority low income neighborhood. To protect the DB neighborhood, the project team decided to purchase 25 acres of DB as the NPEP mitigation area and place the land in a community land trust (CLT) that would rebuild and protect the affordable housing and other neighborhood amenities for the benefit of current and future residents. Acquisition of properties in the mitigation area began immediately after the ROD was signed.
|A panoramic view of the park and surrounding area in DB reveals the various land uses in the neighborhood. There were several auto shops along DeRoode Street mixed in with residential housing. There was a dumpster truck rental business and the Nathaniel Methodist Mission which housed medical, dental, eye, and veterinary clinics. The bottom of the photo shows the concrete storm drain culvert. Obscured from view because of a tree line was a large metal recycling business.|
The NPEP has greatly benefited from the personnel who have overseen the project. The project team, a diverse group of transportation professionals, city planners, historians, social workers, and anthropologists, has held a steadfast commitment to the project’s equity and environmental justice principles. These principles included providing residents impacted by NPEP with a voice in the project’s mitigation approach, affordable housing, and respectful and fair treatment. Their work helped ensure that the NPEP has provided a cleaner environment, new infrastructure, and channels for community dialogue while protecting local residents and the integrity of DB. This commitment endures into the present. Shane Tucker, appointed in 2018 as the fourth NPEP Project Manager, understands that the project’s end goal is not just opening a road, it is a commitment to the residents of DB, to ensure that a long-neglected community has a meaningful voice in the development project.
|The phasing map for Newtown Pike Extension mitigation area in 2013. Phase I included moving residents into interim housing while replacement housing was constructed. Phase II involved the transfer of the remainder of the mitigation area to the LCLT and was completed in 2020. Phase III extends Oliver Lewis Way from South Broadway to South Limestone and has not been built. Phase IV extended Newtown Pike (Oliver Lewis Way) to Versailles Road and was completed in 2010.|
|Phase I residences. The tops of the interim onsite housing can be seen in the upper portion of the photo. A white overlay displays where replacement housing will be built along the new DeRoode Street.|
Davis Bottom 1865–2006
From its roots as a postbellum neighborhood, DB developed into a vibrant, tight-knit, and diverse community with a strong sense of independence and self-sufficiency. DB, located west of downtown Lexington, was named after Willard Davis, a white antislavery attorney who established the area between 1865–1867 with Rudolph DeRoode, a white music teacher. (See the phasing map.) DB received the “bottom” moniker because the area was considered “bottomland,” flood-prone land in the lowest part of Lexington. Davis and DeRoode built homes there to sell to Black families that made weekly rent payments in lease-to-own arrangements. By 1900, according to Heather M. Dollins’ 2011 study East End and Davis Bottom: a Study of The Demographic And Landscape Changes Of Two Neighborhoods in Lexington, Kentucky, the U.S. Census listed 941 persons in 215 households in DB, with 62 percent Black and 38 percent white.
|Rare 1940 Works Progress Administration (WPA) photograph of DeRoode Street in Davis Bottom from West High Street viaduct. DeRoode Street, at the forefront of the photo, was paved by the WPA.|
|Nathaniel Methodist Mission was a cornerstone of the neighborhood, providing free after-school care, medical, eye, dental, and veterinary care to those who could not afford it. In addition to religious services, it also provided a food bank and art classes.|
During the 1930s, DB saw a number of developments. White families from Eastern Kentucky began to migrate to DB and needed affordable housing. The Works Progress Administration paved DeRoode Street and constructed a major storm sewer parallel to it. Three social and cultural anchors were also established: the Nathaniel Methodist Mission (founded in 1934 on DeRoode Street), the George Washington Carver Elementary School (built adjacent to DB in 1936), and a small community green space (informally known as “The Park” until it was adopted by the city of Lexington as Southend Park in 1980). In the late 1940s, this space became a focal point of everyday life in DB including children’s activities, family reunions, and church revivals. Local and traveling baseball teams, “just like the Cincinnati Reds” as one elder recalled, played games on the green space’s baseball diamond.
In the following decades, DB faced numerous challenges. From the 1950s onward, the construction of tobacco warehouses and other businesses in this area gradually destroyed housing, negatively impacting the social fabric of the neighborhood. The threats of destruction from roadway projects in 1958 and 1971 took its toll. In 1980, the Lexington Leader (now known as the Lexington Herald-Leader) newspaper dubbed DB as the “Valley of Neglect” in a series about conditions there and an adjacent neighborhood, Irishtown. The article described a high percentage of absentee landlords who neglected housing upkeep due to plans to extend Newtown Pike. Many houses in DB had no plumbing or heating. Residents endured mosquito and rodent infestations. DB also had public health and environmental hazards, such as a storm sewer that regularly flooded and an unregulated scrapyard. As a result, residents, property owners, and government officials remained uncertain about the neighborhood’s future.
|DeRoode Street photographed from the West High Street viaduct in March 1979. The Nathaniel Methodist Mission can be seen at the end of the street. This photo was originally published as part of the “Valley of Neglect” series by the Lexington Leader (later known as the Lexington Herald-Leader) in 1980. Beginning in 2008, existing homes were demolished, and the NPEP began building new homes. Posted by the Lexington Herald-Leader on October 1, 2017. https://kyphotoarchive.com/2017/10/01/irishtown-davis-bottom-1979-2017/.|
In 1997, the NPEP resurfaced as a transportation priority. Given the history of this neighborhood, KYTC leadership knew any plan to extend Newtown Pike was inextricably linked to preserving DB. This time there was no doubt the road would be built. The NPEP project team formed in the late 1990s to begin the planning process. In 2001, a project consultant developed a corridor plan that aimed to redevelop DB as a residential neighborhood and remove the industrial zoning. The plan also made a commitment that the project’s adverse effects would be mitigated “to the highest degree.” In 2003, the same consultant planned out the new neighborhood (called the Southend Park Urban Village Plan), creating new development design standards that added sidewalks, streetlights, elements of streetscape, and bus stops. A new park and community center were central to the plans. Initial onsite interim housing for current DB residents would protect community cohesion while a newly created CLT would build replacement housing for the displaced residents in a redesigned and rezoned neighborhood. In addition to the mitigation of the neighborhood itself, the project would build a noise wall, a new storm culvert, and remove hazardous waste. The final NPEP plan, as agreed upon in the ROD, divided the project into 4 phases.
|DeRoode Street in DB photographed from the West High Street viaduct looking south. The University of Kentucky’s Patterson Tower can be seen in the background. Nathaniel Methodist Mission can be seen at the end of the street.|
As the NPEP plans became public, DB faced threats from real estate speculators that could harm the community’s social fabric. As a result, when 12 occupied rental houses owned by an estate became available, the NPEP project team negotiated with the estate administrator to hold the properties until right-of-way funds were authorized to acquire them. This agreement prevented the displacement of current renters, stabilizing the DB neighborhood. These renters could remain until interim housing was provided during Phase Ⅰ of the NPEP. Other property was needed earlier to prepare the interim housing site. Without interim housing, construction could not begin on replacement housing that would be offered to the displaced DB residents. David Whitworth, Engineering and Operations Team Leader in the Kentucky Division of the FHWA, approved these early acquisitions, so the project could move forward into Phase Ⅰ.
Despite the project team’s initial plans and actions, DB residents remained defensive and skeptical towards the NPEP. By the time project planning gained momentum around 2006, DB had an estimated population of 56 people—mostly older, 70 percent white and 30 percent Black, living in 30 households. Residents were distrustful of the local government, remembering Lexington’s history of passing them over for improvement projects. In surveys, they expressed a desire to remain in the neighborhood but feared that the NPEP planning process would exclude them and ignore the impact the roadway project would have on their quality of life. The project team recognized they needed to win the trust of the local community and develop a better relationship with its residents for the project to succeed.
Community Engagement Efforts
In mid-2002, a community liaison was hired and set up in an office in the Carver Center, formerly the George Washington Carver Elementary School, to facilitate communication with the DB residents. In her role, the liaison shared project news and information, led personal finance and home ownership classes, and held regular resident meetings with the NPEP team. In these meetings, residents were able to share project-related concerns and questions. She gave residents cameras to photograph what they loved about their neighborhood, further informing the project team about the residents and what features should be retained in their new neighborhood. Starting in June 2003, the community liaison and the NPEP team organized annual Community Unity Days, which included engagement activities, such as a historic tour of the neighborhood conducted by noted local African American historian Dr. Yvonne Giles and NPEP team-led development field tours. Project team members and their families along with residents and their families attended. These activities facilitated relationship building, allowing a relaxed environment for residents and NPEP team members to discuss the project and get to know each other better.
|Carver Center on Patterson Street, formerly the George Washington Carver Elementary School.|
|Project posters announcing Community Unity Day celebrations could be seen in the DB community every August when these events were held jointly with a community distribution of school supplies. The school supply distribution was typically sponsored by Kentucky Utilities and the YMCA. The remaining activities were sponsored by the NPEP.|
Historical Preservation and Public Outreach
In compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, archaeological excavations in 2003–2004 revealed remains of structures and features from the late 1800s–1900s and an archival history further supported the historical significance of DB. Based on this information, the Kentucky Archaeological Survey (KAS) created innovative public outreach and educational resources for the project with a permanent website (https://www.kentuckyarchaeologicalsurvey.org/davis-bottom/), including a digital media archive, excerpts from oral histories, photo collections, and historical resources. In addition, the KAS and Kentucky Heritage Council created an award-winning documentary titled “Davis Bottom: Rare History, Valuable Lives.” The documentary was subsequently shown at the Lexington Public Library and a historic downtown movie theater, The Kentucky. DVD copies of the documentary were provided to neighborhood residents and made available online. The documentary included interviews with current DB residents whose lives were being upended by the NPEP, allowing them to feel heard and express pride in their neighborhood. Resident involvement in the documentary eventually translated into more acceptance of the project.
Other plans exist for future DB historical preservation efforts. Four historic markers will be placed to document key sites and events in DB history. Stones from one of the oldest houses, hand built by a resident, will be exhibited in the new community center to honor DB elders.
|Stones from one of the DB’s oldest houses, handbuilt by a resident, will be exhibited to honor DB elders.|
The Community Land Trust
Sustainable affordable housing was the cornerstone of mitigating the impact of the NPEP. Unfortunately, due to lack of knowledge and expertise on the topic, the decision to choose which affordable-housing model proved to be the most difficult for members of the NPEP team, leading to discord. In the end, the project team employed a decision matrix to objectively evaluate possible affordable housing models, allowing members to visually see and identify the best solution. This process led to the adoption of the CLT model.
|The decision matrix used by the NPEP team to decide on the affordable housing model. Options considered were tested against services the team thought the model must provide. It also allowed a weighted consideration of the ability of the model to provide additional services. (Scale of 1–10, 1 being less important, 10 being most important). The probability and seriousness of failure of the model was also factored in.|
A CLT supports affordable housing and residents in many ways. A CLT removes land from the market and places it in a trust for the community, protecting public investment by keeping homes affordable for future buyers without additional public subsidy. This model thus ultimately benefits the wider community. With a focus on homeownership, families that live in CLT homes can build generational wealth. Homeowners enter a 99-year renewable lease giving them exclusive occupancy of the residential lot. The ground lease includes conditions and restrictions on financing, use, improvement, and resale of the house. Upon the resale of a CLT home, the seller receives all the equity derived from paying down the mortgage and any improvements that add to the home’s value. However, the equity based on the increase in market value (shared equity) a homeowner receives is restricted, limiting the price that a subsequent home buyer will pay thus keeping it affordable for future owners. A CLT supports homeowners, protecting against maintenance deferral and foreclosure. CLT homes are affordable because of the reduced purchase price. The rate of taxation is based on limitations in sales price imposed by the resale formula, not on the fair market value (FMV) of the home, making property taxes more fair and more affordable. The CLT also owns and leases permanently affordable rental units. Finally, CLTs encourage community member involvement in land use planning. (See Pamela Clay-Young and Steven Douglas Kreis’ 2020 report Social Justice Mitigation in Transportation Projects at https://uknowledge.uky.edu/ktc_researchreports/1688/.)
|New rental housing in Davis Park included two fourplexes.|
|New rental housing in Davis Park included two duplexes with a farm-house design made with clap-board style fiber cement siding with small porch entries on each side of the building.|
In mid-2003, a CLT consultant joined the NPEP and educated the team members about CLTs. He also facilitated public meetings to explain the model, bringing in residents from other CLTs to answer questions. The consultant led a steering committee composed of residents, members of the larger community who supported affordable housing, and project team members, which drafted bylaws for the soon to be formed Lexington Community Land Trust (LCLT).
The NPEP team then took a number of steps to establish the LCLT organizationally and financially. The project team provided legal documents to incorporate the LCLT as a nonprofit in November 2008 and assisted when the LCLT filed for the appropriate tax status. The project team committed funds for a community center with office space for the LCLT and provided seed money allowing it to operate until it becomes self-sustaining. The project team also allowed the LCLT to receive any funds derived from the sale of property acquired by the NPEP but no longer needed for the roadway after construction was completed. Later, the team utilized mitigation funds to address the issue of the cost to build the homeownership units being greater than their FMV, allowing affordable housing dollars to focus on reducing the selling price to income-qualified buyers.
Through the LCLT, the NPEP team implemented a number of measures to maintain replacement housing for current DB residents in the future neighborhood. The project team promised that any DB resident could remain in or return to the future neighborhood if they so desired. In accordance with the Uniform Act, those eligible for relocation benefits (rent and mortgage payments for new housing) would remain at previous levels. Renters who wanted to become homeowners would have the opportunity to do so. The NPEP team used mitigation funds (funds related to mitigating environmental impacts as documented in the environmental ROD) to extend rent subsidies to 10 years for those remaining in the neighborhood to provide long-term protection to renters. In addition to purchasing the DB 25 acres, the project paid to have the titles to the rental units vested in the LCLT in 15 years. Had the project not done so, ownership would vest in the developer when their tax credit funding term expires, and units would be sold or rented at market rates. Relocated homeowners were given a resale formula allowing them to capture a percentage of the equity (based on the increase in the FMV) equal to the ratio of their initial investment in the property. The seller will also receive an additional 5 percent of the down payment ratio to guarantee fairness. Otherwise, moving into conventionally funded housing would have been the better financial choice. In the future, the cost of this incentive payment will be offset by an LCLT-controlled fund that will reduce the resale price of those units at the time they are resold. The offset ensures the resale price of the house being sold will continue to be affordable to the next income-qualified buyer.
The NPEP team tailored the LCLT specifically to address the economic diversity of DB residents. In one instance, the LCLT partnered with Habitat for Humanity for one long-term renter who was able to save money and had relocation benefits, per the Uniform Act, yet could not afford a mortgage payment. The assistance of the Habitat Program and its volunteers, including the NPEP team members, brought the cost of the home down to the point that it was affordable for this resident without the need for a mortgage.
|The first home purchased by a DB resident was built in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.|
From the beginning, the LCLT was controversial with DB residents. Homeowners, or those who planned to become homeowners, did not like that they would not own the land. For Black residents, the LCLT plan reminded them of the long history of racial discrimination in land ownership. For Appalachian residents, the plan reminded them of land lost at the hands of extraction industries. The ongoing conflict between the project team and residents over the LCLT led Phil Logsdon, the KYTC environmental coordinator and a previous NPEP Project Manager, to suggest hiring an anthropologist.
Developing Trust and Improving Community Involvement Using Anthropology
An anthropologist from the University of Kentucky (UK) conducted a social needs assessment and made recommendations about needs and perspectives of residents in a final report completed in 2006. The report included social characteristics, detailed information from community observations, mapping of existing activities and use of space, and informal social network analysis to understand the social fabric of life in DB.
The anthropologist’s research found that residents had a steadfast attachment to history, place, and community in DB. Residents referred to themselves as “family” and “insiders” while nonresidents were “outsiders.” Residents insisted the neighborhood was “integrated before we knew what integration was,” as one said. DB had extensive social networks made up of families, kin, friends, and neighbors over generations. Although considered a low income area, not everyone had the same economic circumstances. Many residents had good full-time jobs. A few residents suffered with chronic health problems, and the majority were elderly. The neighborhood operated as an informal economic system over generations. Residents bought, sold, bartered, or simply shared scarce resources, including food. Residents were protective of each other. “We take care of our own,” one resident said. This information helped the team understand the neighborhood in a way that was previously not articulated, creating a deeper connection between the team and the residents.
While the report was informative and useful, the data collection process transformed the project. The anthropologist employed a rapid qualitative method where project team members were trained to collect information in tape-recorded interviews. Working in pairs, team members visited homes of residents who were willing to participate, allowing them to freely express how they felt and what they knew about the NPEP. Recordings were reviewed and themes were identified to investigate in successive rounds of interviews. This cost-effective method generated a great deal of useful information. These two-way conversations caused a significant shift in the project and radically changed how residents and team members engaged with each other. The team gained a deeper understanding of how residents were experiencing the NPEP and how the impacts were affecting them.
The project team instituted new practices based on the report’s recommendations, including increased, clearer, and more targeted two-way communication, particularly as it related to the LCLT and the future neighborhood. As a result, architects developed a method for including the community in decisions on the architectural style of homes and townhouses (e.g., porches were added to the designs). Neighbors had input into the redesign of a cul de-sac and later selected street names for the reconstructed neighborhood. They also decided to name their new neighborhood Davis Park.
Opposition to the LCLT slowly lessened as better communication improved understanding of the model, particularly the financial details the project promised current residents. Though some residents did choose to use their Uniform Act relocation benefits to leave DB, other residents attended national CLT conferences, preparing to take on leadership roles. At the time of the LCLT’s incorporation, a tripartite board of directors was established with one third composed of residents. With project assistance, the LCLT sponsored the 2015 National CLT Conference, which included a neighborhood dinner and tour that highlighted the residents and new homes constructed in Davis Park. This conference gave residents professional opportunities to further learn and teach others about CLTs.
The NPEP engaged additional local expertise to support their work. A UK professor of psychiatry surveyed community resources in DB and made recommendations for social program development and social service delivery. These findings and recommendations were included in the social needs assessment report. As a result, the project team referred residents to job training programs and funded social workers who provided intervention and counseling services as well as prepared residents for their move into replacement housing. Local attorneys also provided free legal clinics for personal needs, such as wills, and later made pro bono legal representation available to DB residents eligible for relocation benefits under the Uniform Act during acquisition and relocation negotiations.
Interim housing served as a crucial part of maintaining DB’s community cohesion during Phase Ⅰ. The project team feared that if DB residents relocated elsewhere, they would never return. Interim housing provided necessary affordable alternative housing for residents during Phase Ⅰ construction and kept the neighborhood together while the original homes were demolished, and replacement housing was built.
|Sixteen manufactured homes were placed in Southend Park as interim housing. Residents moved into interim housing in 2008. Each home came with all appliances, including a washer and dryer. Residents were not required to pay rent or necessary utilities as they prepared for their move into replacement housing.|
In 2008, 16 new manufactured homes were moved into DB to serve as interim housing. Residents were told it would be for 2 years, free of rent or utility costs, and mitigation funds provided moving assistance. Most renters were grateful to move from neglected housing. Homeowners were not as happy as the reality of moving from their long-term home became imminent. Everyone had a conflicted sense of loss and uncertainty about the future combined with a sense of cautious optimism.
Interim housing and the roadway project caused issues for DB residents, requiring the NPEP team to innovate. For example, during the construction of Phase Ⅰ, safety concerns prevented residents from traveling on foot to surrounding neighborhoods to which they previously had easy access. The project team, following a brainstorming session, authorized funds for purchase of prepaid cab fares to and from affected neighborhoods.
The inevitable complications typical of a large roadway project that the NPEP encountered prolonged the interim housing period. Hazardous-material mitigation meant removing 11,665 cubic feet of dirt. Plans also called for raising the elevation of the 25-acre mitigation area an average of 5–10 feet to mitigate soil contamination and prevent flooding. The storm water culvert was relocated underground, a task made more difficult by the discovery of porous limestone. Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations required a noise wall between the rail yard and neighborhood. Local leadership pressured the project to put connecting utility lines underground along the Newtown Pike extension and Main Street. All these efforts took much more time than was anticipated. A legal challenge to property acquisition required the then NPEP Project Manager, Stuart Goodpaster, to shift focus away from the project for a time. Hosting the 2010 World Equestrian Games shifted the NPEP priority to Phase Ⅳ to connect Newtown Pike to Versailles Road, diverting attention away from the environmental justice mitigation in DB. What was intended to be 2 years in interim housing for DB residents stretched into 6 years. These delays caused understandable anger and frustration among DB residents. Some changed their minds and decided to leave. The NPEP team continued to hold regular meetings with residents, giving them the space to vent their frustrations. In 2014, despite all obstacles, the LCLT’s replacement rental units finally became occupied, and the following year the first homeowners started moving into replacement homes.
|The NPEP mitigation area under construction. The noise wall can be seen on the right. The difference in elevation due to added fill can be seen in the center of the photograph.|
|New rental units under construction during Phase I of the NPEP.|
Status of the NPEP Environmental Justice Mitigation Today
The NPEP mitigation efforts are still ongoing. Residents are now in the process of planning the details of the new neighborhood park, community building, and commercial property. In December 2020, the LCLT, KYTC, and LFUCG entered into an agreement outlining their respective responsibilities necessary to complete all environmental justice obligations, with a final completion date slated for June 2023.
|Oliver Lewis Way (part of the NPEP corridor) at the far left photographed from the West High Street viaduct. Oliver Lewis Way connects Newtown Pike to South Broadway. The UK’s Patterson Tower can be seen in the background. On the right, rental units and individually owned homes in Davis Park can be seen. This housing was created by the NPEP and the LCLT to replace previous homes in DB (a neighborhood dating back to 1865).|
Lessons Learned and Tools to Use
During the NPEP planning and project mitigation process, the project team did several things that helped in its ultimate success:
- Created a statement of guiding principles and commitments. This statement articulated the conscience of the project, expressing its core values and concrete goals, which served the project team well, especially in difficult times. Whenever the team disagreed about complicated mitigation decisions, these guiding principles were reviewed, so the team could consider all options that reflected the project’s core values.
- Established an independent advisory committee comprised of civic and government leaders who provided helpful advice and assistance whenever the project struggled in getting an objective accomplished.
- Formed an interdisciplinary team early on during the project, including outside professionals (e.g., anthropologists, city planners, social workers, affordable housing consultants, etc.)
There are certain lessons from NPEP applicable to future highway construction efforts when it comes to working with the local community:
- Emphasize effective communication with the community when making decisions.
- Be aware of the time and focus necessary to complete the project and address the needs of the neighborhood.
- Look at the community’s history during the NEPA analysis to gain a deeper understanding of the residents.
- Thoroughly document all mitigation promises made to the community and keep that information easily accessible in case of staff turnover.
- Let residents voice concerns and vent. Listen to them; they will have good ideas.
- Employ decision matrices to arrive at objective and well thought out decisions.
- Practice environmental justice in doing environmental mitigation by developing meaningful collaboration with the local community. There is a difference in being invited to the table, being given an opportunity to be heard, and being given the power to make decisions.
FHWA produced two videos (a short and longer version) titled “The Road that Rebuilt a Neighborhood” that give additional insight into lessons learned from the NPEP. These videos describe how Federal, State, and local agencies can collaborate to create “effective transportation planning, project development, and design [that] can preserve and enhance the quality of life.”
Ultimately, the NPEP has been about doing the right thing for the residents it impacted. As James Ballinger, the first NPEP Project Manager and current KYTC State highway engineer, put it, “The NPEP was initially conceived as a transportation project; however, it rightfully transitioned into a successful community project because environmental justice was embraced by the project team.” More importantly, as Kenneth Demus, a third generation Davis Park resident and vice president of the LCLT board of directors, says, “It was hard, but it was worth it.”
|Kenneth Demus photographed at his new home on DeRoode Street. Kenneth is the third of five generations of the Demus family to have lived in DB, now known as Davis Park. Demus became a homeowner and serves as vice president of the LCLT board of directors. He also serves as an ambassador for Grounded Solutions, a national network of CLT organizations, traveling around the country educating people about CLTs.|
For more information go to:
Pam Clay-Young, J.D., is a researcher at the UK’s Kentucky Transportation Center (KTC) and formerly an attorney with the KYTC. She has been a NPEP team member from 2003 to the present. She graduated from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law.
Juliana McDonald, Ph.D, is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the UK. She has been an NPEP consultant and team member since 2005. She earned a Ph.D. from the UK in 2000.
Shane Tucker, B.S., is an Engineering Technologist III at the KYTC. Since 2018, he has served as NPEP Project Manager. He holds a B.S. in Construction Management from Eastern Kentucky University.
David Whitworth, M.P.A, is an Engineering & Operations Team Leader with FHWA’s Kentucky Division. David received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Tennessee Technological University and an M.P.A. from the UK. He is the longest serving NPEP team member.
Bernadette Dupont, M.S., is a Transportation Specialist with FHWA’s Kentucky Division. She received a B.S. and an M.S. in Civil Engineering from the UK. She also holds a graduate certificate in Environmental Systems from the UK. She was the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) representative on the HUD/USDOT/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Sustainable Communities Team. In this position, she helped develop two FHWA videos on the NPEP.
The authors would like to thank the following for their contribution to the article: John Ballantyne, FHWA Kentucky Division; Andrew Grunwald, M.S., LFUCG; Robin Baskette, B.S., M.A., Purdue University; and Michael Mabe, B.F.A., KTC.