For Immediate Release, January 22, 2016
||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 Challenges Southern California Freeway Threatening
Low-income Neighborhoods, Wildlife, Air Quality
$1.7 Billion Freeway Would Hurt Air Quality, Waste Taxpayer Money
RIVERSIDE, Calif.— Conservation groups today filed a second legal challenge to a massive $1.7 billion freeway project 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, paving the way for more sprawl and traffic in a rural area with a combination of agriculture, open space and wildlife preserves.
“This project will waste taxpayer dollars to destroy neighborhoods and wildlife areas with a polluting new freeway,” 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 to solve existing traffic problems. This will just drive future gridlock.”
The Mid County Parkway would force up to 396 residents from their homes and displace businesses that employ more than 170 people. 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 regional habitat conservation plans.
The freeway would cut through the San Jacinto Valley, which is home to numerous imperiled wildlife species, including the burrowing owl, Swainson’s hawk, tricolored blackbird, willow flycatcher and Stephens’ kangaroo rat. 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.”
Today’s lawsuit was filed against the Federal Highway Administration in U.S. federal court in Riverside by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley.
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. Prior to this federal lawsuit, the same coalition filed a legal challenge to the freeway in state court in May 2015.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.