For Immediate Release, April 6, 2015
Contact: Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 598-1466
Southern California Highway Threatens to Destroy Homes, Wildlife
Halfway Highway Worsens Air Quality and Wastes Taxpayer Money
RIVERSIDE, Calif.— A Riverside County transportation agency is poised to approve a new $1.7 billion highway on Wednesday that would destroy low-income communities, threaten wildlife preserves and worsen air pollution. The six-lane Mid County Parkway would bisect the San Jacinto Valley, a rural area with a combination of agriculture, open space and wildlife preserves.
“This developer-driven boondoggle rips through wildlife areas, destroys neighborhoods and sticks taxpayers with the bill,” said Jonathan Evans, legal director of the Environmental Health program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Using inflated estimates to justify new freeways and subsidize more sprawl will ultimately result in more cars, more gridlock and more pollution. And as usual the people hardest hit are likely to be minority and low-income communities.”
The Mid County Parkway would force up to 396 residents from their homes and displace businesses that employ 171 people. Property owners would have their land and homes seized through forced sales or eminent domain; the environmental review notes that the chosen route “would result in the highest impacts to residential relocations in areas with minority and low-income populations.”
“This reckless new highway threatens the integrity of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area — one of Southern California’s most important bird areas,” said Drew Feldmann, conservation chair of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. “Paving over the San Jacinto Valley with unneeded highways sacrifices a natural treasure that tens of thousands of migrating birds rely on.”
County environmental documents admit the project will have significant air quality impacts and worsen greenhouse gas pollution, with long-term impacts on farmlands and sensitive wildlife preserves. Environmentally sensitive areas surrounding the freeway that would be affected by the project include the San Jacinto Wildlife Area managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife; Lake Perris State Recreation Area; and important core reserves designated for conservation under the Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
“The Mid County Parkway would worsen our region’s struggling air quality and tear up neighborhoods with a permanent new source of diesel exhaust and soot,” said George Hague of the San Gorgonio chapter of the Sierra Club. “Instead of this wasteful new six-lane highway the county should be proposing cleaner and cheaper upgrades to the Ramona Expressway to improve traffic safety.”
The Mid County Parkway is proposed to replace the existing Ramona Expressway connecting Perris and San Jacinto. The highway was originally scheduled to connect with Interstate 15, but was cut in half in the face of local opposition and now would only serve the rural areas east of Interstate 215. It is listed as “financially constrained” and would take away funds from other more pressing or less destructive transportation projects. The highway design plans for intersections at town and park centers that don’t yet exist and encourages sprawl style development far from transit, jobs and social services. Less costly upgrades to the Ramona Expressway to improve safety and transportation flow were overlooked during the design process.
A coalition of conservation and environmental health groups have condemned the Mid County Parkway, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley, Inland Empire Waterkeeper, Friends of Riverside’s Hills, and Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.