BY STEPHEN WALL / STAFF WRITER
Published: May 13, 2015 Updated: May 14, 2015 5:42 p.m.
Environmental groups are suing to block plans for a $1.7 billion, six-lane freeway from Perris to San Jacinto. The lawsuit, which transportation officials say is without merit, alleges that the Mid County Parkway would:
• Cause more traffic gridlock
• Worsen air pollution
• Force nearly 400 residents from their homes
• Displace businesses employing 171 people
• Harm farmlands and sensitive wildlife preserves
Environmental groups have gone to court to fight a proposed $1.7 billion freeway they say would cut through low-income neighborhoods, threaten wildlife areas and worsen air pollution.
A lawsuit filed last week seeks to block construction of the Mid County Parkway, a 16-mile, six-lane freeway from the 215 in Perris east to the 79 in San Jacinto.
“Rather than look for better, cheaper and smarter transportation solutions, they chose a project that will only lead to more gridlock and sprawl,” said Jonathan Evans, legal director of the environmental health program at the Center for Biological Diversity, a San Francisco-based nonprofit conservation group and one of the plaintiffs.
The agency planning the project, for which construction has not begun, says the lawsuit has no merit.
“It’s unfortunate,” said John Standiford, deputy executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission. “We disagree with the claims. We stand by our work in terms of the environmental process.”
The commission approved the environmental impact report for the project.
The suit alleges that the project is based on faulty premises that may not come true. For example, it uses inflated traffic predictions for 25 years from now, when officials assume the now-rural San Jacinto Valley will be fully developed, the suit states.
“The highway design includes intersections at town and park centers that don’t yet exist and encourages development far from transit, jobs and social services,” according to the lawsuit.
Widening the Ramona Expressway would be a cheaper and less environmentally destructive alternative, the lawsuit states.
“To make it a safer road is fine,” said George Hague, Sierra Club Moreno Valley Group conservation chairman. “A six-lane freeway that goes through where people live and work is not fine.”
The Sierra Club is also a plaintiff, along with San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley and Friends of Riverside’s Hills.
The lawsuit, filed May 7 in Riverside County Superior Court, alleges that the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act. The state law requires the agency to take steps to reduce “significant impacts” related to climate change and air pollution, the lawsuit states. The groups says all work on the project should be stopped until changes are made to comply with the law.
Menifee Mayor Scott Mann said the project would benefit his city. He criticized the act for holding up a project he said would offer motorists another east-west route to reach the 215 without coming through the city.
“It’s lengthy, it’s burdensome, and it provides anyone and everyone a mechanism to delay infrastructure projects that are going to benefit residents in the region for decades,” said Mann, whose city is near the proposed route.
Building the freeway would force nearly 400 residents from their homes and displace businesses that employ 171 people. Property owners would lose their land and homes through eminent domain, opponents say.