The Cleveland National Forest Foundation filed suit against the California Department of Transportation this week, seeking to stop construction on a $3.5 billion expansion of Interstate 5, known as the North Coast Corridor Project. The new construction would add four "managed" lanes to a 27-mile stretch from La Jolla to Oceanside. The expanded lanes would be accessible to buses, carpools, and individual vehicle occupants willing to pay an additional fee.
"Caltrans is stuck in a 1950s mentality, where building more and bigger freeways is seen as the solution to congestion," says foundation president Jack Shu. "If Caltrans really wants to reduce congestion through High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, all it needs is some signs and paint."
The foundation has in the past grappled with the San Diego Association of Governments over a regional transit plan the group feels violates state law by failing to reduce pollution. Again, the foundation argues in its December 4 complaint that Caltrans is also in violation of state environmental law for failing to propose measures to mitigate the added emissions from increased traffic in a final environmental impact report that wasn't released to the public until after the project was approved, despite the foundation having filed a response to a draft version of the report requesting additional information.
"Given that climate science and state policy demand that the state aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades, this Project takes the region — and the state — in exactly the wrong direction," reads the complaint.
From a statement accompanying the lawsuit:
CalTrans projects that, with the expansion, the number of vehicles on the freeway will rise by approximately 50% from current levels, resulting in 140,000 more vehicles per day on some sections of the freeway. Along with increased traffic, the freeway expansion will increase air pollution in the region, which already gets a failing grade from the American Lung Association. The massive expansion will also trigger a surge in greenhouse gas emissions, in direct conflict with state laws calling for aggressive emissions reductions, and stimulate sprawl development, threatening the region’s open space and wilderness areas.
The foundation is represented by Rachel Hooper and Erin Chalmers of the San Francisco firm Shute, Mihaly, & Weinberger, Daniel Selmi of Los Angeles, and local firebrand environmental lawyer Marco Gonzalez of the Coast Law Group.