(CN) – A federal judge upheld federal highway expansion plans over the protests of a group that says the project will destroy a historic public park in Charlottesville, Va.
McIntire Park covers 150 acres in the community that was once home to U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.
Construction of the existing U.S. Route 250 Bypass divided the space into 130 acres that still carry the McIntire Park name, and 14 acres on the other side of the freeway renamed Greenleaf Park. “At that time [Greenleaf Park] became a neighborhood park with its own identity,” the Charlottesville website says.
Since 2004, Charlottesville and the Virginia Department of Transportation have planned to build an interchange at the intersection of the Route 250 Bypass and McIntire Road, which meet in one corner of McIntire Park. Congress earmarked $27 million for the project in 2005.
Based on traffic studies, the Federal Highway Administration determined that the intersection would need additional construction to handle expected volume increases by 2030.
In addition to constructing a diamond-shaped interchange, the agency proposed to extend McIntire Road 775 feet northward into the eastern section of the park, a “highway stub” that its opponents describe as a “road to nowhere” that literally ends in the middle of the woods.
The Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park, a nonprofit organization with 36 members, filed suit last year, claiming that the project will destroy portions of McIntire Park.
U.S. District Judge Norman Moon last week granted summary judgment to the agency’s administrator, Victor Mendez.
“I find that the requisite consideration of the Interchange Project’s cumulative impacts on the environment was adequately undertaken,” Moon wrote. “In the end, the FHWA determined that these cumulative effects lacked the degree of intensity necessary to elevate them to the critical status of ‘significant’ environmental impacts. … I find that the FHWA’s evaluation of the Interchange Project’s cumulative effects was well-reasoned and sufficiently thorough to merit being upheld.”
The coalition improperly focused on the interchange project without regard for other proposed projects by the Virginia Department of Transportation, the decision states.
“After all, ‘it is inherent in the very concept of a highway network that each segment will facilitate movement in many others; if such mutual benefits compelled aggregation, no project could be said to enjoy independent utility,'” Moon wrote, quoting precedent.
“The relevant inquiry, as mentioned, is instead whether a given project will serve a significant function even if the related project is not constructed,” he added. “Ultimately, I am convinced that the Interchange Project serves rational needs in its own right, apart from feeding traffic to the proposed McIntire Road extension.”