Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge Clears Way For D.C. Streetcar System

(CN) - A citizens group opposed to the District of Columbia's construction of a new, 37-mile streetcar system has lost its bid to stop the portion of the project that will pass through their neighborhood.

After handing the Kingman Park Civic Association a series of losses over the past 16 months, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly dismissed this week dismissed the last remaining claims of a lawsuit filed in June 2013.

The streetcar system is intended to connect Benning Road to Union Station via the district's H Street corridor. In anticipation of the project, the city began prepping the corridor with new parking lanes, sidewalks, street lights and tracks in 2008.

But the civil association worried that track work may harm air quality by releasing lead, chromium, arsenic and other contaminants into the air, and that vibrations associated with excavation and construction might crack their walls and foundations.

The mayor responded by saying the construction inconveniences would be of short duration, the every effort would be made to prevent adverse impacts, and that ultimately "quiet electric motors" and an electrified wire suspended about 20 feet above the lane will power the streetcars.

In July 2013, Judge Kollar-Kotelly refused to halt the construction of a "car barn" training center on the grounds of the Joel Elias Spingarn Senior High School - a historic landmark - despite neighborhood concerns that facility would allegedly emit electromagnetic radiation.

The following month, Kollar-Kotelly declined to let the neighbors add a Fair Housing Act claim to their lawsuit, and later ruled that the neighborhood could not challenge the installation of streetcar wires.

The judge further winnowed the association's lawsuit on May 14, 2014, when she dismissed all but its claims under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and those asserting violations of the D.C. Environmental Policy Act of 1989.

She dismissed those claims on Monday, tossing aside the association's argument that the mayor failed to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the car barn construction, as required by the U.S. Department of Transportation manual.

The manual says "construction of rail transit facilities will 'normally' require an EIS," Kollar-Kotelly wrote. "The manual simply lists rail transit facilities as one of several examples of projects that may likely require an EIS, not projects that by definition require an EIS." (Emphases in original).

The court also threw out the association's claims that the district failed to analyze the effect of noise and vibration and storm-water runoff on residents near the car barn or new track.

The neighborhood failed to show "that there is currently a stream flowing under the Spingarn location," Kollar-Kotelly wrote. "Plaintiff only points to the statement in the Geoarchaeological Survey that '[t]he 1945 and 1951 [United States Geological Survey] USGS topographic maps show a 0-order stream flowing under this area' - evidence that by itself does not support the conclusion that such a stream, which is the smallest order of stream, continues to flow over 60 years later. Moreover, the next sentence in the Geoarchaeological Survey clearly states that '[c]onstruction of the school apparently included the filling of this area,' presumably referring to the Spingarn campus."

The district's air quality analysis technical report did not fail to address the amount of pollutants to be generated from the car barn construction, the ruling states.

The report "states that air quality monitoring data 'indicates compliance with current [National Ambient Air Quality Standards]' and that 'project implementation would result in a slight decrease in local diesel-related emissions of PM [particles], helping to contribute to the trend of improving local air quality,'" the judge wrote (emphasis and brackets in original).

She later added that the defendant's reports "show that soil samples taken from the Spingarn campus did not reveal the presence of any contaminant in a concentration considered a significant risk to human health or the environment and thus presented 'no significant indicators of environmental concern.' The court also notes that defendant is required by the District Department of the Environment to control 'fugitive dust' throughout the construction."

The court also rejected claims that the district's decision to construct the car barn on the Spingarn campus was driven by the fact that Kingman Park has a predominantly black population.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.