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A contribution for the evaluation of the territorial impact of transport infrastructures in the early stages of the EIA: application to the Huelva (Spain)–Faro (Portugal) rail link

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The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure should predict and identify the major impacts of a project development that may cause specific spatial and temporal effects. Early in the EIA, the scoping stage provides all the relevant information on the impacts of the project alternatives. In particular, potential effects on the territorial network such as habitat connectivity loss and accessibility improvements should be taken into account in the various proposed layout alternatives when evaluating transport infrastructure projects. However, several authors have identified deficiencies in practice. The aim of this article is to provide a methodology for the assessment of these territorial impacts using adequate indicators in the early stages of the EIA procedure.

The proposed method is based on a comparison of a range of alternative layouts for a railway line linking two population centres, using indicators calculated with geographic information systems. The methodology was applied to a case study – the rail link between Huelva (Spain) and Faro (Portugal) – and the high speed rail (HSR) and conventional rail were evaluated in different layouts. The method was effective in spatially identifying significant impacts on accessibility improvements, which occurred closer to the cross border area. The conventional railway alternatives have similar accessibility values to the HSR. The results also reveal that connectivity loss is not limited to the area around the infrastructure, but extends throughout the territory. The results are at variance with the initiative proposed by Spanish and Portuguese transport decision-makers, and raise the possibility of selecting a conventional railway option. An adequate territorial evaluation methodology enables the new action to be correctly assessed, and supplies the information required to propose the most suitable alternative from a socio-economic and environmental standpoint, regardless of whether this proposal was initially included in the transport policy.
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Keywords: Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure; accessibility improvements; habitat connectivity; transport planning

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Departamento de Ingeniería y Gestión Forestal y Ambiental, ETSI Montes, Forestal y del Medio Natural, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), Madrid, Spain 2: Department of Agro-Forestry Sciences, Environmental Technologies Area, Polytechnic School, Universidad de Huelva, Palos de la Frontera, Spain

Publication date: February 1, 2016

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