Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Metrolink Perris Valley Line Lawsuit: Frivolous or not?

Both the state and the feds need to close the legislative loopholes for transportation environmental impact reports.

Several Riverside County transit riders and commuters have been long wondering: When exactly will the Metrolink Perris Valley Line extension project finally break ground on construction? Transit officials estimate spring or summer of 2013 as the Riverside County Transportation Commission was awarded state funds for the project. It is currently awaiting federal funding, and a lawsuit filed against the project will be finally over by then. $53 million has been obligated to RCTC from the California Transportation Commission. $75 million from the federal government is awaited, after which the $247 million Perris Valley Line project will be fully funded. RCTC must be prepared and be ready to confront any possible delays from the federal level to prevent anything else from delaying groundbreaking. We've been patiently waiting...

The Metrolink Perris Valley Line. As many of you are aware, the proposed Perris Valley Line Metrolink extension is being challenged in court with its trial scheduled to start in January. An opposing organization called Friends of Riverside Hills filed a lawsuit in August 2011 challenging the Environmental Impact Report for the rail project, claiming RCTC failed to adequately detail the noise and pollution impacts of excavating dirt around the tracks and other aspects of construction. The case was merited to go to trial last April. The group represents residents living in the residential areas near UC Riverside.

To be fair to all parties involved, we live in the United States of America and we citizens have a right to peacefully organize, freely participate in robust debates, and challenge each other on issues. That's a welcomed reality of living in a free democracy; otherwise The Transit Coalition wouldn't exist. Friends of Riverside Hills is challenging RCTC fair and square as its lawsuit has legal merit; that's why the case has been allowed to go to trial. However, the issue at stake is a classic example of how a small issue can become a big judicial problem; a loophole which should be addressed by lawmakers.

It's a clear fact that moving dirt around and grading sites are basic steps for just about any major construction or development project, even those that don't require an EIR. Both the state and the federal government must consider revisiting transportation legislation to prevent minor claims like those addressed by Friends of Riverside Hills from having legal merit in the future. This will prevent future transit and highway projects from being mired in unnecessary expensive litigation which ends up being paid for by local and county taxpayers. Obviously, there should be written rules, mandates, and limits to keep dust pollution and noise caused by grading and construction to a minimum. The law should state: If the construction contractor violates these terms, pollutes the air or becomes too noisy, the firm, not the taxpayer, gets fined.

Under the current system, RCTC is mandated to conduct a detailed analysis on dust and noise pollution caused by transportation construction. Friends of Riverside Hills found there wasn't enough data reported in the project's EIR and now the case is headed to trial. This current system allows for a pure waste of local transportation resources. Protection against construction-related dust pollution and noise is absolutely vital and it can be regulated under better written state and/or federal law, not litigation. If such provisions were in place, the Perris Valley Line construction contractor would have been held more accountable for any construction-related pollution and noise, RCTC would know which areas of the corridor would need to be quiet-zone designated, Friends of Riverside Hills would have ended up with a frivolous case and the lawsuit against the long-overdue Perris Valley Line would have been thrown out by any impartial judge. This legal loophole must be closed by the state and feds, and it needs to be done soon.

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