Its so-called "interchange" would extend for approximately six miles along Loop 1604 and three miles along US 281. Construction would occur almost entirely over the vulnerable Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.
AGUA's motion is backed by declarations from Hollywood Park residents, including the Mayor, who live near the massive project. Additional declarations are offered by Dr. Reid Ewing, an MIT-educated professor of City and Metropolitan Planning and Dr. Lauren Ross, P.E., an expert on the Edwards Aquifer and water quality. Further support is provided in a deposition of Geary Schindel, P.G., Chief Technical Officer of the Edwards Aquifer Authority and in a letter by a professional engineer disputing the "Categorical Exclusion" of the project.
AGUA's goal is to protect the Edwards Aquifer and endangered species living in the Aquifer’s recharge zone. Its suit names the Federal Highway Administration, Amadeo Saenz, Jr. (TxDoT), the US Fish & Wildlife Service and Terry Brechtel (Alamo RMA) as defendants.
What is at issue?
AGUA's lawsuit involves the massive US 281/Loop 1604 "interchange" that defendants plan to construct over one of the most vulnerable areas of the aquifer recharge zone. Our lawsuit details how defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Myths and Facts about the Lawsuit
Alamo Regional Mobility Authority has reacted to our lawsuit with inflammatory comments and misinformation. AGUA would like to set the record straight.
Myth: AGUA is at fault for delaying a needed project
Facts: If Alamo RMA and the Texas Department of Transportation would follow the law, the project would not be delayed. In 2008, TxDoT was caught rigging its environmental studies on the US 281 expansion, and had its federal clearances yanked as a result.
A non-tolled overpass and interchange solution was approved and environmentally cleared in 2002. But TxDoT failed to move on the project, instead choosing to pursue wildly unpopular toll roads and "public-private partnerships."
More recently, when economic stimulus money became available, our transportation agencies should have seized the funding opportunity for less-controversial mass transit and other sustainable transportation solutions that benefit both the economy and the environment. In the end, the blame is on the government bureaucrats and developers who are trying to make up for years of poor planning and mismanagement, while disregarding threats to the drinking water supply for millions of people.
Myth: Defendants have "gone to great lengths" to provide environmental studies and safeguards.
Facts: Instead of complying with laws intended to protect your health and drinking water supply, defendants are recklessly forging ahead using a “Categorical Exclusion” to avoid required environmental studies and safeguards. In doing so, they are exploiting the same loophole that BP used to hurry up and drill its "Deepwater Horizon" well. A recent investigation revealed that the:
...Obama administration has doled out billions of dollars in stimulus money to some of the nation’s biggest polluters and granted them sweeping exemptions from the most basic form of environmental oversight...
In December, 2010, a tanker truck overturned on 1604, spilling 1,500 gallons of fuel onto the aquifer recharge zone. This project is at the intersection of two hazmat routes. A toxic spill could knock out wells supplying water for 100s of thousands of people. That risk increases exponentially when new highway lanes are added.
Myth: The interchange will alleviate air pollution because cars won't be stuck in congestion.
Facts: Congestion will be worse during the 3 years this project is under construction. If there is any short-term benefit to air quality after completion, it will be overcome almost immediately by increased car and truck traffic and sprawl. If "mixmasters" actually helped air quality in the long-run, Houston would have fantastic air quality.
Commuters will be tortured by delays, since only the southern half of the interchange ramps will be built. Before the northern ramps are finished, commuters will have spent 5 or 6 years in construction zones; twice what is necessary. Your children may be off to college by that time.
Myth:The interchange is a small project that will have little impact on the aquifer and endangered species.
Facts: This project is an integral part of the massive expansions of Loop 1604 and US 281. ARMA/TxDoT are pretending it's separate in order to claim it has no significant impact.
This pretense was rejected previously by a federal judge in his "Order Concerning the US 281 Toll Road Project", and it is likely the same ruling will occur in this case. In his order, he stated:
...it seems commonsensical that two intersecting parts costing billions would be connected to create an Aristotelian whole.
Alone, the interchange incorporates more than eight miles of added lanes along 1604 and 281, with years of construction delays and added air, noise and water pollution. These highways traverse the heart of the aquifer recharge zone and their cumulative impacts on the aquifer will be enormous.
Paving over of the recharge zone, and the contributing zone to its north, will accelerate because of sprawl development induced by additional highway capacity. Contamination of your drinking water will follow. As configured, the interchange will limit alternatives for 281 and 1604, such as dedicated bus lanes and multiple transportation mode solutions, and very likely lock in toll roads for these highways.
Myth: AGUA filed the lawsuit to make money/extort the taxpayers
Facts: AGUA is a non-profit organization run entirely by volunteers who take time away from their jobs to protect the aquifer. We neither profit from the lawsuit nor expect our group to benefit from it.
Indeed, the reality is far different from what ARMA wants you to believe. Your taxpayer money is being used by ARMA to mislead the public through expensive, professionally-crafted PR campaigns.
Who really stands to profit from this project? Wealthy developers and landowners who want taxpayers to foot the bill for the infrastructure needed to serve their new subdivisions and strip malls. Big highway construction companies. Toll road companies, potentially foreign-owned. Follow the money; it does not lead to AGUA.
Myth: "Thornton said officials tried to negotiate with AGUA but were met with silence"