Client Successes Jun 1, 2017

NEPA Victory for Freeway Infrastructure Project in Riverside County

BB&K Team Represents RCTC in Mid County Parkway Project Dispute

Best Best & Krieger LLP environmental attorneys successfully defended a freeway infrastructure project in Riverside County from a series of challenges brought under the National Environmental Policy Act. Partners Michelle Ouellette, Charity Schiller and Andrew Skanchy won a cross-motion for summary judgment in federal court on behalf of the Riverside County Transportation Commission on May 11 in a lawsuit regarding the Mid County Parkway project and Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement.
 
The $1.7 billion project is a 16-mile freeway that links Interstate 215 in the City of Perris to State Route 79 in the City of San Jacinto. As of now, the Ramona Expressway is the only existing east-west transportation corridor in that location, but it does not meet Caltrans or Riverside County standards for major roadways. Access points, like driveways and cross streets, impede traffic flow, reduce capacity and pose safety risks. The project is being designed to alleviate those concerns, and provide for more efficient transportation in the future — as demand is expected to grow with increased population and employment in the region.
 
The Federal Highway Administration was sued in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in January 2016. RCTC – which served as the California Environmental Quality Act lead agency for purposes of environmental review under state law – intervened as a defendant in May 2016. The plaintiffs tried to block the project, claiming it received inadequate environmental review. However, Judge George H. Wu sided with the FHWA and RCTC finding that all but two of the arguments the plaintiffs raised in their motion for summary judgment were not properly before the court, as the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. The 47-page ruling details the many iterations of the project that were developed, studied, reviewed, discussed publicly and re-vamped over and over again since the early 2000s. “With respect to the two arguments that are not barred by that analysis — arguments concerning an alleged deficient description of the project route and an allegedly unsatisfactory consideration of the range of alternatives — the court rules on the merits in favor of FHWA and the RCTC,” Wu wrote.
 
Additional challenges to the EIR/EIS brought against RCTC under CEQA remain pending in state court.
 
The case is Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. Federal Highway Administration, et al., Case No. ED CV 16-133-GW(SPx).

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