Plaintiffs call for a mix of improvements including diverting freight from truck to rail
Northern Virginia Daily
April 2, 2008
By Preston Knight
A timeline has been set on how a civil complaint filed by nine groups and a Shenandoah County man opposed to expansion plans for Interstate 81 will be handled in U.S. District Court.
U.S. Attorney John Brownlee submitted a joint proposed case management order on behalf of the plaintiffs and defendants Monday that calls for oral arguments to be made by the end of the year. The 10 plaintiffs, which include Fishers Hill resident Larry Allamong, filed a suit in December seeking relief against the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Virginia division administrator of the highway administration to prevent right-of-way acquisition, financing, contracting or construction of additional lanes on I-81. The plaintiffs feel there are fundamental flaws in the expansion plan.
Through a motion filed by Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, and then approved by the court, the Virginia Department of Transportation, state secretary of transportation and Commonwealth Transportation Board commissioner have since intervened in the matter.
Brownlee's order this week asks the defendants to file an administrative record pertinent to the court proceedings by July 7 to get the process started.
"The timetable is almost a distraction," said Megan Gallagher, of the Shenandoah Valley Network, one of the plaintiffs. "What still bothers us is that VDOT still hasn't changed its plan."
Along with Stewart Schwartz, of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, another plaintiff in the case, Gallagher expressed some concern Tuesday about a situation in RockbridgeCounty, where interstate widening, including a truck climbing lane, has been proposed without proper planning, they said.
"It gives us no more reason for confidence," Gallagher said.
The plaintiffs advocate a balanced mix of improvements to the interstate, including spot safety improvements to troubled areas and greater freight diversion from trucks to rail. A report from the state regarding the impacts of rail is expected this spring, Gallagher said.
"That's going to be fascinating with the debate with I-81," she said.
Schwartz said the plaintiffs have at least scored a victory with the recent creation of a law banning tolls on I-81 without the General Assembly's approval. The highway expansion plan would need tolling to be financed, he said.
"[The law] showed a lot of unity in the valley and I-81 community as a whole," Schwartz said. "We are, of course, still hoping VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration will re-evaluate plans and not look further into the proposal for an eight-lane highway."
Brownlee responded to the plaintiffs' original complaint asking the court to dismiss the suit.
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