Coal. to Pres. McIntire Park v. Mendez, CASE NO. 3:11-cv-00015

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
Writing for the CourtNORMAN K. MOON
Docket NumberCASE NO. 3:11-cv-00015
Decision Date29 May 2012

and DANIEL BLUESTONE, Plaintiffs,

CASE NO. 3:11-cv-00015


Dated: May 29, 2012



In this action, the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park1 and Daniel Bluestone2 (collectively "Plaintiffs") seek declaratory and injunctive relief for purported violations of federal law by Defendant Victor Mendez, Administrator for the Federal Highway Administration ("FHWA"),3 in approving federal funding for a highway project in Charlottesville, Virginia known as the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road (the "Interchange Project"). Plaintiffs contend that the Interchange Project, which calls for the expansion of the existing intersection of the Route 250 Bypass and McIntire Road, will compromise or destroy portions of McIntire Park (the "Park") and adversely affect other natural and historic features found therein and nearby. The matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, I will deny Plaintiffs' motion and grant Defendant's cross-motion.

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A. Facts Contained within the Administrative Record4

The Interchange Project at the heart of this matter is preceded by a long history of attempts to build roads through and around McIntire Park. Evidently, what was, decades ago, a more ambitious and comprehensive project has since been scaled back and broken up by the local, state, and federal governmental entities that, to various degrees and at various times, have been involved. Today, there are essentially three separate projects in and around the Park area.

Northeast of the Park is a 1.4-mile stretch of road known as the Meadow Creek Parkway (the "Parkway"), which extends south from Rio Road to Melbourne Road. The Parkway, which was funded by Albemarle County and the Virginia Department of Transportation ("VDOT"), was recently completed, and is now open to traffic.

To the southwest of the Parkway would run the proposed McIntire Road Extended (the "MRE"), which is being funded by the City of Charlottesville and VDOT. It would be built through the eastern half of McIntire Park, thus connecting the southern terminus of the Parkway at Melbourne Road with the Route 250 Bypass at McIntire Road. However, as currently configured, the MRE would not extend south all the way to the Route 250 Bypass; rather, it would terminate at a point 775 feet north of the bypass.5

Finally, there is the Interchange Project, with which this lawsuit is primarily concerned. The Interchange Project is the only one of the three plans that, if completed, would utilize federal funding. As its name indicates, the Interchange Project seeks to construct a grade-separated

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interchange at the current at-grade, signalized intersection of the Route 250 Bypass and McIntire Road. The Route 250 Bypass is a key east-west, four-lane divided roadway that enables motorists to bypass Charlottesville's downtown area and neighborhoods. AR 7, Bates # 000040. McIntire Road is a two-lane road that runs north from the downtown area and terminates at the Route 250 Bypass. Id.

Although it was originally conceived by the City of Charlottesville and initiated in 2004, the Interchange Project was later added to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which is approved annually by the FHWA. See AR 7, Bates # 000038. Initial funding was provided by VDOT, and in 2005, Congress earmarked a total of $27 million for the Interchange Project in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users ("SAFETEA-LU"), Pub. L. No. 109-59, 119 Stat. 1144, 1449, 1506. Id. Also in 2005, the Charlottesville City Council created a steering committee to offer input on plans for the Interchange Project. Id. at Bates # 000040.6

Based on traffic studies, the FHWA determined in 2006 that the intersection was operating at a level of service ("LOS") D during the morning rush hour and a LOS C during the evening rush hour. AR 7, Bates # 000040.7 While these LOS ratings were satisfactory, the

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FHWA projected that under future no-build conditions, an at-grade intersection would exist where the Route 250 Bypass, McIntire Road, and the currently-proposed MRE meet, and by the year 2030, volumes of traffic would cause the intersection to operate at a LOS F during both morning and evening rush hours. Id. at Bates # 000042.8 A LOS F is deemed unsatisfactory. Id. Even if the MRE were not built, the FHWA concluded, 2030 traffic projections for the intersection under no-build conditions indicate that it would still function at a LOS F. Id.

According to the FHWA, the Interchange Project seeks to address five objectives, known as the Interchange Project's "purpose and need." These ends include:

1. Improving roadway and operational deficiencies in the form of traffic congestion, limited capacity, and inefficient traffic operations at the existing intersection of the Route 250 Bypass and McIntire Road intersection as well as within the project area;
2. Improving unsafe motorist, bicycle, and pedestrian conditions for those passing through the project area;
3. Improving deficiencies in community mobility for automobiles, pedestrians and bicyclists;
4. Addressing social demands for creating a gateway into the City of Charlottesville and the Park that is sensitive to the context of its surroundings, minimizes impacts to the environment, and supports existing and planned recreational development; and
5. Constructing a project that is consistent with Congress's desires as represented by its earmark in SAFETEA-LU.

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See AR 7, Bates # 000042; AR 534, Bates # 004690, 004692. With these purpose and need goals serving as a backdrop, the FHWA undertook a rather exhaustive process of examining several options for improvement of the intersection.

At the beginning of this process, certain design proposals and alternative options for improvement of the intersection were excluded from detailed study because they failed to meet the purpose and need of the Interchange Project. AR 534, Bates # 004693-94. Thereafter, a no-build alternative and three interchange concepts for improvement of the intersection were presented to the public. Id. at Bates # 004694. The result was the development of thirteen different interchange alternatives, which were evaluated for their ability to meet the Interchange Project's purpose and need, and then presented to the public in 2006. Id. at Bates # 004694-95. Of these alternatives, five were retained for more detailed analysis, but only two were carried forward in 2007. Id. at Bates # 004695. Following a public comment period, discussion with the Interchange Project's steering committee, and a Charlottesville City Council work session, the City Council endorsed Alternative G1 as the preferred alternative in August 2008. Id. at Bates # 004695-96.

Alternative G1, which would meet the purpose and need for the Interchange Project, calls for a traditional diamond-shaped interchange with signalized ramps at McIntire Road. Id. at Bates # 004696. The central design feature of Alternative G1 is the Route 250 Bypass passing over McIntire Road, hence achieving a grade-separated interchange. Id. Alternative G1 also proposes a northern spur, extending the existing McIntire Road northward to meet the proposed MRE, which would extend down from Melbourne Road. Id. According to the FHWA, if the MRE is not constructed, the design of the interchange would be reevaluated. Id. Overall, Alternative G1 would require approximately 7.8 total acres of the Park (5.5 acres for new

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roadways and 2.3 acres for trails).9 AR 7, Bates # 000053. The FHWA represents, and Plaintiffs do not dispute, that the new roadways called for by Alternative G1 would result in the paving of 4.1% of the Park's acreage.

Both Alternative G1 and the no-build alternative were carried forward for further analysis by the FHWA. At that point, it was determined that Alternative G1 would use five properties protected by Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 196610 : McIntire Park, McIntire Skate Park, Rock Hill Landscape, Charlottesville and Albemarle County Courthouse Historic District, and McIntire/Covenant School. Id. at Bates # 000043. The impact on the last two of these properties would be de minimis. Id. at Bates # 000053. However, all of McIntire Skate Park would be used,11 and portions of McIntire Park and Rock Hill would be impacted. Id. at Bates # 000054.

Next, the FHWA considered three total avoidance alternatives and the no-build alternative. The total avoidance alternatives were designed to avoid all of the Section 4(f) properties. Id. at Bates # 000055. Avoidance Alternative 1 would improve roadways northwest of the Park; however, it would substantially impact approximately sixty residential properties and require multiple relocations, which would significantly raise the cost of such a project. Id. at Bates # 000055, 000057. For these and other reasons, and because it failed to meet the Interchange Project's purpose and need, Avoidance Alternative 1 was rejected. Id.

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Avoidance Alternative 2, which is favored by Plaintiffs, would improve upon the no-build, at-grade...

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