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Coalition on Sensible Transp. v. Dole

Citation: 17 ELR 21191
No. No. 86-5557, 826 F.2d 60/(D.C. Cir., 08/11/1987)

The court holds that federal, state, and local officials did not violate § 4(f) of the Department of Transportation (DOT) Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), or the hearing requirements of § 128 of the Federal-Aid Highway Act in planning a project that would widen 16 miles of an interstate highway in Montgomery County, Maryland. The court first holds that the project constitutes a "use" of park land triggering the requirements in DOT Act § 4(f). The court declines to decide whether temporary construction easements that will be used during the five-year construction period trigger § 4(f), since the alteration of about 10 acres of parkland required by the project constitutes a use of park land. The court holds that DOT did not abuse its discretion by concluding under DOT Act § 4(f)(1) that there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of park land. While at least one feasible alternative to the use of contruction easements exists, DOT properly rejected it as imprudent based on "truly unusual factors." DOT's judgment that the easements were aesthetically preferable to the use of retaining walls that would have been as high as 50 feet was reasonable. DOT properly considered the aesthetic interest of highway users in making this judgment. The court holds that DOT's conclusion under DOT Act § 4(f)(2) that the harm to the park could not have been minimized by adoption of an alternative plan was reasonable. Since these two alternatives cause roughly the same harm to park land, § 4(f)(2) does not limit DOT's choice.

The court holds that the responsible officials' decision not to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) under NEPA was not arbitrary and capricious. Defendants' environmental assessment (EA) gave the requisite hard look to the project's impacts on traffic, development, wildlife habitat, and wetlands. The court holds that DOT did not improperly segment the project to avoid preparation of an EIS. DOT was not required to expand the scope of the EA to include a spur connecting the interstate to the beltway surrounding Washington, D.C., since the project had independent utility. DOT was also not required to consider several interchange projects along the interstate, since these projects will serve significant purposes even if the interstate is not built. The interstate project will also not unduly restrict consideration of alternatives for related projects. The court holds that DOT did not violate NEPA by failing to analyze the cumulative impacts of the project and various related interchange and spur improvements. The EA properly incorporated the effects of these projects, which were analyzed in other EAs and EISs, as part of its background data instead of restating the results of the prior studies.

The court holds that defendants did not violate the public hearing requirements of § 128 of the Federal-Aid Highway Act. The shift in alignment of the interstate made in response to issues raised at the hearing do not require a new hearing because the changes were not substantial. The court holds that the district court did not improperly deny plaintiffs' vague request for discovery concerning defendants' mental processes, since plaintiffs made no serious allegation of bad faith.

Counsel for Appellants
Brian P. Leitch, Bruce M. Cormier
Arnold & Porter
1200 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 872-6700

Counsel for Appellees
J. Carol Williams
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2757

Before: RUTH B. GINSBURG, SILBERMAN and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.