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February 24, 2011

Meadowcreek opponents file federal suit

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, February 24, 2011
 
Opponents of the Meadowcreek Parkway have filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration to prevent construction of the road’s proposed interchange with the U.S. Route 250 bypass.

“This is a very pivotal moment in a struggle that has been going for over 30 years,” said Rich Collins, one of the members of the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110223-MCP-Lawsuit

20110223-MCP-Bluestone-Crui
Coalition members John Cruickshank and Daniel Bluestone at a press conference outside the federal court building

The suit, which was filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for Western Virginia, cites Section 4(f) of the 1966 Department of Transportation Act, which prohibits the FHWA from approving highways that pass through parkland if there are viable alternatives. Additionally, the National Environment Policy Act requires environmental impact statements to be developed.

Download Download the Coalition's lawsuit against the FHWA

In October the FHWA issued a “finding of no significant impact” for the parkway’s interchange with the U.S. Route 250 bypass. That gave the coalition a legal trigger to file the suit.

“We think that there are significant impacts,” said Peter Kleeman, another member of the coalition. “We have assessed our opportunity to contest this project on the basis of those federal laws.”

The suit also alleges that the parkway project was unlawfully divided into three segments in order to reduce the required level of environmental review. In addition to the interchange, the Charlottesville and Albemarle County portions of the parkway are classified as separate projects administered by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

No federal funding is being used to construct the city or county’s portion of the road, but the interchange will be paid for using a $27 million federal earmark sponsored by former Sen. John Warner.

“In 1985, Meadowcreek Parkway was one road with one name,” said Daniel Bluestone, whose home at 501 Park Hill is specifically cited as one of the historical resources that will be damaged as a result of the interchange’s construction.

“Our argument is that with major federal funding, the federal laws still apply,” Bluestone said. “They’re in place to protect parklands and historic properties.”

He added that, in addition to McIntire Park, the Covenant School, the Rock Hill gardens and his fellow Park Hill residents will all be negatively affected by the interchange.

The suit claims that the three projects are “inextricably intertwined.”

“Federal law required the FHWA to identify and evaluate the environmental harms that will foreseeably be caused by the three projects when viewed as a whole,” reads the lawsuit.

This is the group’s second lawsuit against the road. The first, which was filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court, claimed a supermajority of four out of five city councilors was required to approve a transfer of city-owned land inside the county to VDOT, which was necessary for construction of Albemarle’s section of the road. Judge Jay Swett ruled against that motion in June 2009.

The coalition is still raising money to pay for the federal lawsuit, according to Cruickshank. He said the group is also considering potential action against VDOT to prevent further work.

20110223-Salidis
Stratton Salidis

The city’s portion, which is known as McIntire Road Extended, was advertised for construction in December 2009 and the lowest bidder of $3.38 million was Key Construction Company of Clarksville. However, VDOT has not awarded a bid because the Army Corps of Engineers has not yet completed its review of the project.

The county’s 2.1-mile portion is more or less complete, and was even open to traffic for a brief time last October.

Timothy Hulbert, the president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview that construction of all three projects is his organization’s highest transportation priority.

“The federal interchange project will enhance not only McIntire Road Extended and the Meadowcreek Parkway, but the entire regional transportation network,” Hulbert said. “There will be improvement not only for the bypass, but for Park Street and Hydraulic Road as well.”

Officials with Charlottesville and the Virginia Department of Transportation declined an opportunity to comment on the lawsuit.

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