Judge Norman K. Moon of the U.S. Western District Court has dismissed a lawsuit from the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park that claimed the Federal Highway Administration unlawfully split three components of the roadway in order to evade environmental scrutiny.
“The FHWA properly followed the required procedures,” Moon wrote in a 53-page ruling that was filed Tuesday. “I find that the requisite consideration of the Interchange Project’s cumulative impacts on the environment was adequately undertaken.”
A rendering of a design shown to Council in late 2009 depicting how the interchange would look heading south towards downtown Charlottesville.(Source: RK&K)
Under the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Six-Year Improvement Program, the parkway is considered three projects with separate funding sources.
The grade-separated interchange with the U.S. 250 Bypass is the only one of the three projects scheduled to receive funding from the federal government.
The FHWA issued a “finding of no significant impact” allowing the interchange to proceed in September 2010.
The Coalition filed suit against the FHWA in February 2011. One of their claims was that the agency should have reviewed the entire parkway and not just its interchange. They also argued that an environmental impact statement was required and not a less rigorous environmental assessment.
During an April 25 hearing in the U.S. Western District Court, Coalition attorney James B. Dougherty argued that the FHWA should have not dismissed interchange options that would have entirely avoided McIntire Park .
The Coalition had claimed that “avoidance alternative 2” would have addressed the same purpose and need for the roadway.
The FHWA argued that alternative was not “prudent” because it would have resulted in an eventual 29-lane intersection as traffic conditions increased. They also argued pedestrians and cyclists would have been put in danger if one of the purposes of the interchange was to connect the city to McIntire Park.
“Alternative G1 ameliorates these risks, for those pedestrians and bicyclists would be able to pass underneath the bypass,” Moon wrote.
Dougherty had rebutted that a well-timed traffic signal could have achieved the same purpose, but that argument was not successful.
“The Court’s role in this case is not to serve as an arbitrator, deciding whose reasonable argument is superior,” Moon wrote.
The Coalition had also argued that there was no guarantee that the city’s portion of the road –known as McIntire Road Extended — would ever be fully built. Moon disagreed.
“Not only does the Interchange Project assume the construction of the MRE… but it also proposes the construction of bike lanes and shared-use trails that extend into the Park, regardless of whether or not the MRE is built,” Moon wrote.
The Coalition had argued that the impact of the interchange would greatly damage the “unique characteristics” of surrounding historic properties such as the Rock Hill Academy property, the McIntire Covenant School and the Charlottesville and Albemarle County Courthouse Historic District.
“Plaintiffs do not, however, explain what the unique aspects of those properties are, nor do they suggest that the impacts of the Interchange Project on these five areas would be severe,” Moon wrote.
Moon also said the McIntire Skate Park may be unique, but it is being relocated elsewhere after it is displaced.
The Coalition had also argued that the project was controversial, and thus required an environmental impact statement.
“Were controversy in the context of [the National Environmental Policy Act] to be equated with opposition in the community, the outcome of an agency’s environmental analysis could routinely be held hostage by any ‘heckler’s veto,’” Moon wrote.
The Coalition had argued that the northern terminus for the interchange was illogical because it extended 775 feet into McIntire Park.
Moon ruled that the interchange would have independent utility if McIntire Road Extended were never constructed, agreeing with the FHWA claim that the northern stub could not be built for vehicles if the project were readjusted.
“For example, under [the interchange], access to Birdwood Road and Hillcrest Road and the residences located there would be enhanced, thus improving vehicular traffic safety,” Moon wrote.
“The ruling is somewhat lengthy and will require analysis prior to determining if any further action by the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park is forthcoming,” Kleeman said in a statement to the press.
City officials could not be reached for comment by press time.