WASHINGTON — A northern Virginia county suing federal and state transportation authorities over certain environmental exemptions for planned high-occupancy toll lanes on two interstate highways has asked the court to add another federal official as a defendant.
Arlington County filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia about one year ago against the Virginia Department of Transportation, the U.S. DOT, the Federal Highway Administration and their top officials.
The project would create new toll lanes along Interstate 395 and I-95, expanding the highways’ 28-mile high-occupancy vehicle lanes.
It also would add infrastructure such as exit and entrance ramps and interchanges along the corridor in northern Virginia from Spotsylvania County to the Pentagon in Arlington County.
No decision has been made on whether bond financing will be used in the project, which is still in the planning stages.
“At this time, we cannot say if bond sales will be part of the financing arrangements reached in the comprehensive agreement, or what kind of bonds might be involved,” said Jeff Caldwell, communications chief of the Virginia DOT.
The county alleges that the project — an 80-year public-private partnership between VDOT, Fluor Virginia Inc. and Transurban Development Inc. — and its environmental impacts were not accurately studied before it received a “categorical exclusion” from certain environmental requirements.
Such exclusions can be granted to projects that do not have a significant impact on travel patterns or air, noise and water quality, among other things. They exempt projects from lengthy environmental assessment and public comment processes that are often required by federal clean air and environmental protection laws.
The lawsuit is essentially an appeal of the categorical exclusion granted to the project.
The county recently filed a motion with the court to add Edward Sundra, planning and environmental program manager for the FHWA’s Virginia division, to the list of people and organizations it is suing in the case.
“Basically, it is a two-fold lawsuit,” said John Britton, partner and managing partner of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, which is representing the county board.
The lawsuit claims that state and federal agencies and officials invoked “deliberately deficient, inaccurate and woefully inadequate traffic analyses and environmental reviews to support their determination” that the project could be granted an exclusion.
It also alleges a failure to adequately study the public health and historic preservation effects the project would have on the county, in particular the minority and low-income communities along the corridor.
The county learned of Sundra’s “pervasive and instrumental role in reviewing, determining and executing the decisions” that underlie the lawsuit while reviewing information it received after June 25.
The Federal Highway Administration declined to comment on the litigation. Sundra could not be reached for comment. The U.S. Department of Justice is scheduled Friday to file a response on behalf of the federal agencies.