Group sues to stop highway expansion project in East Texas

David Yates Dec. 13, 2007, 3:20am

Jim Blackburn

A herd of Denton County residents calling themselves the Highland Village Parents Group are seeking an injunction against the U.S. Federal Highway Administration and Texas Department of Transportation in hopes of stopping a massive highway project that would allegedly endanger the lives of children.

The complaint and application for a permanent injunction was filed on Dec. 10 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division. The suit also names the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Texas Transportation Commission and several government employees as defendants.

The civil action brought by the Highland Village Parents Group (HVPG) claims the six-lane highway project, which will extend from FM 2499 to the city of Corinth, violates both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Administrative Procedure Act (APA), as well as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA).

"This lawsuit was filed to challenge the arbitrary and capricious and illegal actions by a group of governmental agencies that had already made their minds up about what they were going to do and then simply did it, running roughshod over the procedural requirements of NEPA and…SAFETEA," the suit states.

"This lawsuit is filed in an attempt to protect the health and well-being of those numerous citizens, including children, living and playing sometimes just a few feet from this proposed highway."

The suit continues by saying the lawsuit came to fruition in order to prevent Pilot Knoll Park and surrounding recreational trails and wildlife management areas "from being permanently harmed, forever impairing the enjoyment of these areas."

The plaintiffs claim that the defendants violated the environmental acts by failing to disclose "significant impacts" of the project and "ignoring certain air pollution and health effects and safety risks" associated with the highway expansion. The suit also alleges that the defendants failed to properly analyze and consider noise mitigation and approved a plan that will "impair public parkland" without considering alternatives.

The Highland Village Parents Group, a Texas non-profit corporation, is an association of citizens concerned about public health and safety of residents living directly adjacent to or in the immediate vicinity of the proposed FM 2499, Section 4 project, and concerned about quality of life within the City of Highland Village, in Denton County, the suit said.

The HVPG members allege they would be harmed in the following ways if the highway project is allowed: delay, stress, and exposure to noise caused by traffic; diminished opportunities to engage in recreational pursuits such as walking, jogging, viewing scenery, bird watching wildlife study, and boating in areas, including natural parkland and public recreational facilities; diminution of property values; loss of the opportunity-due to the sight, sound, lighting, and effect on wildlife of the project-to reside in, and enjoy their quiet and almost rural neighborhood; and exposure to unhealthful levels of air pollution.

Case background

The project was first conceived in 1983. Now, 24 years later, final approvals have been given and construction of the project is scheduled to begin in early 2008. When first proposed, this northern section of FM 2499 was a controversial project, opposed by many because of the significant environmental impacts, the suit said.

"Today, it remains a controversial project, still opposed by many (if not more) because of the even greater environmental impacts to the changed local environment," the suit said. "The proposed highway passes through the heart of communities that have grown up in the past 24 years, and just a few feet from homes and gardens."

The plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the highway's construction and a court order mandating full disclosure of health effects, safety risks and environmental impacts of the project.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorney James Blackburn Jr. of the Blackburn Carter law firm in Houston. Blackburn focuses his practice on environmental issues and litigation.

Case No. 4:07-cv-00548-RAS

More News