The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler U.S. District Judge
The controversial proposed $2.45 billion, 18-mile, six-lane tolled highway Maryland Route 200 (the "Intercounty Connector" or "ICC Project"), if built, would connect Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland, and would pass through private property, parks and wetlands. Local debate about the ICC Project has persisted since it was first discussed in the 1950s. On May 29, 2006, the United States Department of Transportation ("DOT"), through the Federal Highway Administration ("FHWA"), issued the Record of Decision ("ROD") approving the ICC Project. This action arises out of that approval.
Plaintiffs contend that by approving the ICC Project, Defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq.; the Federal Aid-Highways Act ("FAHA"), 23 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.; the Clean Air Act ("CAA"), 42 U.S.C. § 7401 et seq.; the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users ("SAFETEA-LU"), 23 U.S.C. § 134; the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.; and the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552.
This matter is now before the Court on the Motion to Transfer of Defendants DOT, Peters, FHWA and Capka [Dkt. No. 9], and Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion to Direct the USDOT Defendants to File the Administrative Records in This Court [Dkt. No. 11]. Upon consideration of the Motions, Oppositions, Reply, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons stated below, the Federal Defendants' Motion to Transfer is granted and Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion to Direct the USDOT Defendants to File the Administrative Records in This Court is denied as moot.
A. Background and Procedural History
Plaintiffs, Environmental Defense and Sierra Club, Inc., are non-profit environmental and conservation organizations. They bring this action for declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of themselves and their members in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Defendants are United States Department of Transportation ("DOT"), Mary Peters,*fn1 Federal Highway Administration ("FHWA"), and J. Richard Capka*fn2 (collectively, the "Federal Defendants"); as well as the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Vincent C. Gray,*fn3 the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, and Katherine Hutchins.*fn4
The proposed ICC is an 18-mile east-west tollway linking Interstate 270 in Montgomery County, Maryland, with Interstate 95 and U.S. Route 1 in Prince George's County, Maryland. Plaintiffs claim that the ICC would be the third largest highway construction project in the country. Compl. at ¶ 34. According to the Federal Defendants, the ICC Study Area, i.e. the geographical region examined to determine where direct impacts of the Project would be experienced, is located entirely within the State of Maryland. Defs.' Mot. at 4. Plaintiffs claim that "the proposed ICC would funnel 125,000 vehicles per day into residential neighborhoods and in close proximity to five schools where children will be exposed to dangerous levels of toxic and particulate matter air pollution. The proposed ICC would also destroy private property, wetlands, and other natural areas home to endangered species." Pls.' Opp'n at 2.
In 1997, the FHWA and Maryland State Highway Administration ("MdSHA") issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") for an intercounty connector road similar to the current ICC Project. Compl. at ¶ 35. That proposal was put on hold after the United States Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency indicated that it would have significant adverse environmental impacts. Id. at ¶¶ 36-39. The Project was revived in 2003, and the FHWA and MdSHA released a revised Draft EIS on November 22, 2004. Plaintiffs, the Prince George's County Council, and others submitted comments on the Draft EIS objecting to the proposed ICC. Id. at ¶¶ 43-47. The FHWA and MdSHA issued a Final EIS on January 3, 2006. Id. at ¶ 72. According to Defendants, after the issuance of the Final EIS, the determination that the Project met air quality standards (the "PM2.5 Conformity Determination") was prepared and opened for public comment by the FHWA, MdSHA and Maryland Transportation Authority. Defs.' Mot. at 5.
On May 29, 2006, the FHWA issued its ROD approving the ICC Project, and the FHWA and MdSHA published their notice of approval on June 23, 2006. Compl. at ¶¶ 272, 422.
On December 20, 2006, Plaintiffs filed the instant action in this Court. They claim that Defendants, in violation of NEPA: (a) developed an unlawfully narrow purpose and need statement for the ICC Project, (b) arbitrarily relied on the Montgomery County land use plan, (c) failed to consider reasonable alternatives to constructing the ICC, assess environmental impacts, or discuss mitigation, and (d) failed to discuss alleged inconsistencies with Maryland law. They also claim related violations of FAHA resulting from, inter alia, the Federal Defendants' alleged failure to consider appropriate alternatives, determine adverse environmental effects, and mitigate those effects. They raise several claims related to air quality, including allegations of error in the PM2.5 Conformity Determination, the assessment of air quality impacts, and the comment period. Their remaining claims allege failures in approval of the Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program ("TIP") and the National Capital Region's Constrained Long-Range Plan ("CLRP"),*fn5 as well as a violation of FOIA.
Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the approval of the ICC violated the federal statutes cited above, and ask the Court to set aside the approval and remand the issue to the Federal Defendants for preparation of a revised EIS and an adequate analysis of alternatives and mitigation. They also ask the Court to set aside the Metropolitan TIP and CLRP because they included the ICC without properly analyzing its impact on those Plans' ability to meet national or local transportation objectives, in violation of local law. They further seek an injunction preventing the Federal Defendants from transferring or authorizing funds approved prior to judgment for any action related to construction of the ICC until this case has been decided.
Later in the same day on which Plaintiffs filed the present lawsuit, four different plaintiffs filed a separate action against the Federal Defendants in this suit as well as four additional defendants in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. Audubon Naturalist Soc'y, Inc. v. United States Dep't of Transp., No. 06-3386 (D. Md. filed Dec. 20, 2006) (the "Maryland Action"). Plaintiffs in the Maryland Action are the Audubon Naturalist Society of the Central Atlantic States, the Maryland Native Plant Society, and Roger Metcalf and Eve Burton (the "Metcalf-Burtons"). The Metcalf-Burtons are a married couple who live in a home located in Montgomery County in an area to be affected by the ICC Project. Plaintiffs in the Maryland Action are suing the Federal Defendants in this lawsuit, as well as Nelson Castellanos,*fn6 the United States Army Corps of Engineers ("ACOE"), Colonel Peter W. Mueller,*fn7 and Janet M. Vine.*fn8
The Maryland Action plaintiffs claim that the defendants failed: (a) to develop a reasonable purpose and need statement for the ICC Project, as required by NEPA, (b) to consider reasonable alternatives to constructing the ICC as mandated by NEPA, and (c) to conduct an accurate assessment of and mitigation for the impacts of the Project on protected parkland. ...