The largest jurisdiction in the Greater Washington, DC region has just completed its first health impact assessment (HIA), assessing the potential health impacts of a proposed transit center along a state highway corridor. Fairfax County, which is also the largest county in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, received a grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) in 2014 to evaluate several potential sites for a transit center along Richmond Highway (U.S. Route 1), a major highway running through the southeastern part of the County. The HIA was led by an interdepartmental team including the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) and Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT). Christine Green, the former Greater Washington, DC regional policy manager, participated on the review committee and provided technical assistance throughout the HIA process.
A health impact assessment (HIA) is a systematic process that uses an array of data sources and analytic methods and considers input from stakeholders to determine the potential effects of a proposed policy, plan, program, or project on the health of a population and the distribution of those effects within the population. To see if an HIA has been conducted in your community, check out the Health Impact Project’s interactive website here.
The HIA explains that Richmond Highway is an important artery that connects major commercial, residential, and recreational points in Northern Virginia. It bisects the southeastern region of Fairfax County which is one of the most economically disadvantaged and transit dependent areas of the county. A new transit center along with Richmond Highway Corridor has been proposed to improve access to transportation and enhance existing bus services currently provided by the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). The HIA looked at two sites under consideration for the transit center.
The Richmond Highway Transit Center HIA assessed public transit access and mobility along the corridor; access to goods and services, physical activity and affordable housing; air and noise pollution and community safety and cohesion. Overall the HIA showed that the transit center has the potential to positively impact the health of residents living near both potential transit sites. Improving bicycling and pedestrian connections would impact health through increased physical activity; improving access to employment and educational opportunities; reducing vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle fatalities and injuries; and improving neighborhood safety and security.
Health and transportation partnerships are key in our work to keep people safe and increase walking, bicycling and transit access. Both bring a unique perspective to the table and when paired together create a better outcome for the community. The HIA helps to advance a Health in All Policies (HiAP) approach in Fairfax County. HiAP is a collaborative approach to improving the health of all people by incorporating health considerations into decision-making across sectors and policy areas.
Congrats to Fairfax County on a successful HIA and public health and transportation collaboration!