Court hears opening arguments in I-95 case

News AASHTO Journal January 26, 2005
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A legal conflict over the widening of U

A legal conflict over the widening of U.S. 95 in downtown Las Vegas headed into federal court last week, as the Sierra Club and the Federal Highway Administration filed opening remarks in the case. As it is being heard, much of the road project remains at a standstill.


Scott MacGruder, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Transportation, said the department and FHWA hope the court will make a decision before February so work to widen the highway from six lanes to 10 may resume in full. The project was largely put on hold by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July. Construction has continued on storm drainage systems and retention barriers.


The Sierra Club claims the project will add more vehicle traffic and increase toxic air emissions. The Sierra Club alleges that FHWA didn't fully perform a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement that included consideration of public-transit alternatives.


Currently, states must only analyze six pollutants as part of the transportation conformity analysis done before such construction in parts of the country that are out of attainment for ozone and/or carbon monoxide. FHWA maintains there is no meaningful, scientific way to analyze the health effects associated with toxic air emissions.


Attorney Stephanie Tai of the U.S. Department of Justice, representing Nevada and FHWA in the case, stated in opening arguments that "What the Sierra Club seeks is not innocuous" because it will spur "congestion and stop-and-go traffic, in turn leading to safety problems and more emissions."


Sierra Club Attorney Joanne Spalding stated: "Even without the widened freeway, there's a much higher level of traffic. The widened freeway will be subject to gridlock."


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