A coalition of non-profit groups filed a motion for summary judgment in federal court in Charlottesville Wednesday, challenging a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) plan to spend $11.4 billion to widen most of I-81 to an average of eight lanes.
The motion is part of a lawsuit filed in December 2007 to block a costly plan to overbuild the interstate. The groups asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia and Judge Norman K. Moon to order federal and state highway officials to preserve options for less costly and less destructive alternatives to major highway widening on I-81.
“In our discussions with the defendants in the course of this case, we learned that federal and state officials did not intend to consider alternative solutions to major highway widening when individual projects are advanced on I-81 in the future,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, based in Washington, DC.
Schwartz added, “Our request for summary judgment would require that VDOT consider alternatives like spot highway safety improvements and increased diversion of freight traffic from trucks to rail, which would have much less impact on the communities, farms, history and scenic character of the Shenandoah Valley and the entire I-81 corridor.”
Fundamental rights lie at the core of the groups’ challenge to the I-81 plan. Washington Attorney Andrea C. Ferster, lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, explained, “The statute of limitations notice published by the highway agencies in 2007 would have made it impossible for landowners or local governments on the I-81 corridor to challenge highway widening and promote alternative plans, thereby violating their constitutional rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”