Legacy Parkway Litigation
PROBLEMS WITH THE LEGACY PARKWAY PROJECT
The Adverse Impact of “Sprawl” Resulting from Construction of the Legacy Parkway Has Never Been Evaluated by the Project Proponents.
- Definition of Sprawl. The term “sprawl” refers to unchecked development, spreading outward from metropolitan areas, characterized by low-density pattern of development which emphasizes single-family homes and private automobiles creating the following conditions:
- Large tracts of homes that tend to look the same.
- Communities without a town center.
- Dependence on the car for every errand because the automobile-centered design reduces the convenience of other transportation options.
- Increased pollution from cars because of greater distances to cover.
- Decay of inner cities and older suburbs as jobs and people move to urban edge.
- Loss of open space and conversion of rural/agricultural land to commercial and residential development.
- Public lands squeezed by subdivisions.
- Reduction of wildlife habitat.
- The Law Requires Consideration of Sprawl Resulting From a Highway Project. The National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) requires “full and fair consideration of significant environmental impacts[.]” 40 C.F.R. § 1502.1. These “include growth inducing effects and other effects related to induced changes in the pattern of land use, population density or growth rate.” Id. § 1508.8(b). Courts in other cases have concluded that changes in development and growth patterns (i.e., urban sprawl) must be considered in the environmental impact statement in order to comply with NEPA.
- UDOT Denies that the Legacy Parkway Will Affect Growth. UDOT claims, based on interviews with local planners in Davis County, that “the land development that might normally accompany a new highway will occur whether or not the Legacy Parkway is constructed[.]” FEIS, Vol. I, p. 4-1.
- UDOT’s Position is Contradicted by Its Own Expert. UDOT’s position flies in the face of an overwhelming body of evidence and the opinion of virtually every urban planning expert. Indeed, UDOT’s own expert, Cambridge Systematics, Inc., disagreed with UDOT’s position: “There is a significant amount of information and research indicating a correlation between highway accessibility and land development. . . . [I]t would appear unlikely that the development pattern in the absence of the proposed Legacy Parkway would be the same as the pattern that would exist if the highway were built.” Report by Cambridge Systematics, Inc. at 15, 17 (Oct. 25, 2000).
UDOT Failed to Consider All Reasonable and Least Environmentally Damaging Alternatives.
- The Law Requires Consideration of All Reasonable and Least Damaging Alternatives. NEPA requires consideration of all reasonable alternatives within or outside the jurisdiction of the federal agency. Similarly, the Clean Water Act requires consideration of all “practicable alternatives” to the proposed project which would have less adverse impacts on the environment. UDOT consistently and stubbornly refused to consider reasonable and practicable alternatives in the Legacy FEIS, including a Transit 1st alternative and less damaging Legacy routes.
- The FEIS Grossly Underestimated the Potential Contribution of Mass Transit. The FEIS advocates “an extraordinary expansion of public transit system to achieve the maximum reasonable transit usage” and “maximum reasonable future mass transit.” FEIS, Vol. I, p. 2-18, 2-20. Yet the FEIS grossly under predicts the potential contribution of mass transit towards meeting future travel demand, which skewed the analysis and artificially narrowed the alternatives considered.
UDOT Failed to Consider the Best Sequencing of the Components of the “Shared Solution”
- UDOT Concedes that Mass Transportation is Necessary to Meet Travel Demand. The FEIS states that only by implementing a “Shared Solution” (consisting of a combination of the Legacy Parkway, I-15 expansion and upgrading, and expanded mass transit) will “the transportation needs of the year 2020″ be satisfied. FEIS, Vol. I, p. vii. Indeed, the FEIS sets an express goal of “an extraordinary expansion of public transit system to achieve the ‘maximum reasonable transit’ usage” and “maximum reasonable future mass transit.” FEIS, Vol. I, p. 2-18, 2-20. Yet the FEIS radically underestimates future transit use and fails to consider whether and how transit could be maximized or optimally integrated with highway infrastructure.
- UDOT Never Considered Whether Constructing Mass Transit 1st Would Be More Advantageous Than Constructing the Legacy Parkway First.Despite UDOT’s concession that mass transit is needed, the FEIS does not analyze whether the mass transit component of the Shared Solution should be implemented before the Legacy Parkway component. Rather, UDOT assumed without explanation that the Legacy Parkway should be built before mass transit. Building the mass transit system first would result in many benefits:
(1) Constructing a mass transit system first would encourage ridership as occurred with TRAX during reconstruction of I-15 in Salt Lake County.
(2) Constructing a mass transit system first would encourage transit-oriented development projects, as has already occurred along the existing TRAX line and as is planned by Kennecott with its “Sunrise Project.”
(3) Constructing a mass transit system first would allow better integration into the existing highway and roadway system and expanded I-15, and avoid the potential foreclosure by Legacy of optimal transit design.
- UDOT’s Failure to Consider Sequencing and Integrating Mass Transit Vitiates the State’s Own Long Range Transportation Plans. Rapid growth, the narrow corridor of land bordered by the Wasatch Front and the Great Salt Lake, and the limited available right-of-way require careful urban and transportation planning to construct transportation infrastructure which encourages mass transportation, preserves wetlands, maintains air quality and efficiently uses remaining open space and right-of-ways. The Long Range Transportation Plan for the region sets goals to “provide a balanced, coordinated transportation system (auto, air and transit). . . . , [c]oordinate the development of all elements of both the highway system and other public and private transportation systems, as well as the linkages between them, to meet present and future travel requirements in the region. . . . The highway system needs to provide good access to other modes of transportation. The local transit system needs to be developed to provide for easy transfer between various modes.” These objectives were never considered as part of the Legacy Parkway Project, and alternatives to meet these objectives were not examined in the FEIS.
- Time Exists to Construct Mass Transit Before Constructing Another Highway. Commuters traveling northbound on I-15 recognize that the prior I-15 expansion work in the North Corridor has significantly reduced congestion and travel time. Indeed, congestion has been reduced for more than sufficient time to construct a mass transit system.
- Despite the Acknowledged Need for Mass Transit, No Funds Have Been Allotted to the Acquisition of Rail Right-of-Way in the North Corridor.Amazingly, the Governor’s budget includes no funds for transit right-of-way acquisition. Some still claim that no need for expanded mass transit exists. Any concern that the ridership might not exist for a robust regional transit system cannot be taken seriously in light of the success of TRAX and projected population increase along the Wasatch Front.
- Now is the Time to Implement a “Transit 1st” Policy. By the year 2020, the FEIS predicts that open space in the North Corridor will experience “full buildout.” Population growth north in the North Corridor is expected to increase by approximately 63% by 2020. As such, the Wasatch Front will be a full-fledged metropolis within 20 years.
The Army Corps of Engineers Issued a Permit Even Though the Mitigation is Not Based on Any Scientific Basis.
- Background Regarding the Wetlands At Issue. According to wetlands experts at EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, international organizations such as the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, and others, the wetlands adjacent to Great Salt Lake are among the most important in the entire Western Hemisphere. This wetland ecosystem forms part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, “a distinction afforded to only five areas in the lower 48 states,” and has been characterized by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as “an irreplaceable and unmitigable resource due to its size, and ecological features.”
- The Mitigation Plan Lacks a Scientific Basis. Despite the ecological significance of the wetlands, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service observed that methodology used by UDOT to support the wetlands mitigation plan and the CWA § 404 permit application failed to adequately consider wetlands functions and values, particularly for wildlife:
- “The HGM methodology did not include an analysis of indirect impacts to the wildlife function/value of impacted wetlands, particularly the effects of noise disturbance and habitat fragmentation.”
- “[T]he analysis is restricted to wetlands within 300 meters (1,000 feet) of the highway right-of-way and only evaluates impacts related to barriers and land use types within the adjacent to wetlands which omits any assessment of impacts to more wide ranging species such as migratory birds. Field testing and validation of the HGM model has not occurred, so its applicability to the Great Salt Lake ecosystem and its wetlands has not been shown… “
- “No satisfactory quantitative assessment for wildlife impacts has ever been conducted for Legacy Parkway and the HGM model admittedly is not intended to analyze impacts to wildlife.”
In conclusion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated, “We continue to express our concerns regarding the lack of wildlife assessment throughout the NEPA and 404 planning processes, particularly given the national and international importance of Great Salt Lake wetlands to migratory birds and other wildlife.” See Letter from Reed E. Harris, Utah Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to Col. Michael J. Walsh, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Sept. 13, 2000).
- Failure to Support the Mitigation Plan With a Scientific Analysis of Functions and Values of the Impacted Wetlands Harms Private Citizens As Well as the Environment. NEPA and the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) require that professional and scientific integrity of the analysis and methodology supportive of an environmental impact statement and CWA permit. Regardless of the acreage “preserved” as part of project mitigation, failure to base project mitigation on a scientific functions and values assessment could result in mitigation which does not adequately compensate for lost functions and values even though the amount of acreage set aside is greater than the wetlands lost.
The Army Corps of Engineers Permit Violates the Clean Water Act. The CWA requires the Corps to identify and select an alternative that will either avoid, or cause the least damage to, wetlands and the environment. The Corps violated this obligation by failing to analyze and select less damaging alternatives, including a transit-first alternative and different, less damaging Legacy alignments.
WHO OPPOSES THE LEGACY PARKWAY PROJECT AND WHY
- Urban and Transportation Planners, and Developers. Urban and transportation planners believe that the Legacy Parkway will cause sprawl, while construction of a regional mass transit system will promote transit oriented developments as is currently happening adjacent to TRAX in Salt Lake City. Another example of a “smart growth” project is “Sunrise: A New Community Vision” to be developed on 4,200 acres owned by Kennecott Utah Copper in South Jordan. The project consists of a major mixed-use residential, retail and office space based on “smart growth” concepts. The key to the Sunrise project is the anticipated linkage to the light rail system in order to provide transportation options: “A balanced approach to transportation that provides for multiple modes of travel, including pedestrians, bicycles, automobiles and mass transit, within an interconnected grid street system.” See Sunrise Project Description. Other developers would be willing to develop such projects in the North Corridor if given the opportunity.
- Davis County Commuters. Davis County residents who commute overwhelmingly want transportation options. Many would prefer resources and focus shifted from building more roads to design and construction of a robust transit system.
- Business and Industry Leaders. Business and industry leaders recognize that increasing emissions of mobile sources resulting from building more roads – such as the 130-mile Legacy Parkway — which will attract more cars could lead to failure to maintain compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Violations of these standards could result in EPA imposing more stringent emissions controls on businesses and industry, thwarting economic growth. Some business leaders also believe that degradation of air quality from increased automobile emissions could frustrate the planned construction of more power generation plants.
- Physicians. Local physicians, such as Dr. Richard E. Kanner (Professor of Medicine, Director of the Pulmonary Function Lab at the University of Utah and former member and Chairman of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Board), increasingly recognize the adverse effects of air pollutants on the respiratory system and public health in general.
UTAHNS FOR BETTER TRANSPORTATION
Utahns for Better Transportation (“UBT”) consists of an unusually diverse coalition of individuals and organizations. Individual members include Davis County commuters and residents, local urban and transportation planning professionals, developers, environmentalists, physicians, duck hunters and farmers. Institutional members of the coalition include Friends of the Great Salt Lake, Future Moves Coalition, League of Women Voters of Salt Lake, HawkWatch International, Crossroads Urban Center, Coalition for Livable Streets, Great Salt Lake Audubon Society, Disabled Rights Action Committee, Wasatch Clean Air Coalition, Utah Rivers Council. UBT has engaged numerous expert consultants and a litigation team to pursue its “Transit 1st” policy.
WHAT DUTY DO WE OWE FUTURE GENERATIONS?
“Our generation, more than any other, has the ability to irretrievably change the land. Financial rewards provide tremendous pressure to unleash our technology to reinvent our surroundings. There will be growth; change will come. But failure to care for the land on which we live means turning our backs on a heritage laid down carefully and at such great cost by our forefathers – and will leave us immeasurably poorer.” Steven E. Snow, “Skipping the Grand Canyon,” New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community (ed. Terry Tempest Williams, William B. Smart, Gibbs M. Smith eds. 1998). Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to make wise choices regarding transportation and land use.