Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 7, 2015

Contact:  Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 598-1466
George Hague, Sierra Club, (951) 313-0395
Tom Paulek, Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley, (951) 368-4525

Lawsuit Filed Against Southern California Freeway Threatening Homes, Wildlife 

$1.7 Billion Freeway Would Hurt Air Quality, Waste Taxpayer Money

RIVERSIDE, Calif.— A coalition of conservation groups filed a legal challenge today to a new $1.7 billion freeway in Southern California that would cut through low-income neighborhoods, 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, while paving the way for more sprawl and traffic.

“Wasting taxpayer dollars to destroy neighborhoods and wildlife areas with polluting new freeways isn’t a transportation solution, it’s a transportation disaster,” said Jonathan Evans, legal director of the Environmental Health program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are smarter, safer and cheaper 21st century transit solutions. This boondoggle will drive us right back to 20th century gridlock and sprawl.”

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.”

“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 freeway, the county should be proposing cleaner and cheaper upgrades to the Ramona Expressway to improve traffic safety.”

Riverside County environmental documents admit the project will worsen air quality and greenhouse gas pollution, while harming farmlands and sensitive wildlife preserves. Environmentally sensitive wildlife areas surrounding the freeway that would be affected by the project include the San Jacinto Wildlife Area; Lake Perris State Recreation Area; and important core reserves designated for conservation under the Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. 

The freeway would cut through the San Jacinto Valley, which is home to numerous imperiled wildlife species, including the Least Bell’s vireo, burrowing owl and Los Angeles pocket mouse. It’s also one of the most important areas for migratory birds in Southern California and is renowned as a haven for birds of prey, including bald and golden eagles and peregrine falcons.

“The Mid County Parkway opens the door to short-sighted efforts to pave over the beautiful San Jacinto Valley, destroy its agricultural community and degrade one of Southern California’s most important wetlands — the San Jacinto Wildlife Area,” said Tom Paulek of the Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley. “Approving the reckless freeway destroys the possibility for sustainable land use planning to reduce urban-industrial sprawl, preserve local agriculture and protect wildlife.”

The Mid County Parkway is proposed to replace the existing Ramona Expressway connecting Perris and San Jacinto. The freeway 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. The $1.7 billion freeway would take away funds from other more pressing or less destructive transportation projects. The freeway 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.

Today’s lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley and Friends of Riverside’s Hills.

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.

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