CA Highway Expansion Plans Trigger Lawsuit

     RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) – Riverside County’s plan for a $1.7 billion, six-lane highway expansion will devastate the environment, force 396 people from their homes and displace businesses in poor communities, environmentalists claim in court.
     The Center for Biological Diversity et al. sued the Riverside County Transportation Commission on May 7 in Superior Court.
     The groups want all approvals for the Mid County Parkway and its environmental impact report vacated and all work on the project stopped until the county complies with the California Environmental Quality Act and other state laws and regulations.
     The Mid County Parkway would expand the Ramona Expressway between Perris and San Jacinto. The highway bisects the San Jacinto Valley, one of the last remaining outposts of agriculture and open space in the rapidly urbanizing county.
     The groups call the project a form of environmental suicide.
     “The MCP [Mid County Parkway] is not designed to address any existing problem, but is predicated on inflated future traffic demand 25 years from now, which assumes buildout of the San Jacinto Valley,” the complaint states. “Instead of alleviating traffic impacts, it would induce growth that would lead to further gridlock and pollution. The highway design includes intersections at town and park centers that don’t yet exist and encourages development far from transit, jobs and social services.”
     The environmental impact report concedes that the project would have its greatest impact on poor and minority communities, the groups say. It will force 396 people from their homes and displace businesses that employ 171 people, according to the complaint. And it will be close to several schools, “creating a permanent source of air pollution for children in low-income and minority communities that are especially hard hit by air pollution” already, the complaint states.
     It also would affect the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, a major refuge for migratory birds, the Lake Perris Recreation Area and areas designated for conservation under the Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
     Joining the Center for Biological Diversity as plaintiffs are the Sierra Club, the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, the Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley and Friends of Riverside’s Hills.
     They are represented by Jonathan Evans with the Center for Biological Diversity’s San Francisco Office.

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