Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Highwayman and Houston Tomorrow: An introduction to Trinketland

First I read this:

Wisconsin Court Ruling means Houston could think more about transit. Dug Begley, The Highwayman,

A federal court judge in Milwaukee might have made it a little trickier to widen Texas roads.
Leaving aside whether that’s a good or bad thing, the ruling has certainly energized Houston-area people who push for more transit and less freeway building.
“It feels like it is almost the sky is the limit for our team on these kinds of issues to stop wasteful highway building and increase transit,” said Jay Blazek Crossley, program development and research director with Houston Tomorrow, an urban planning nonprofit.

Then I read this:

Federal court says highway sponsors must first study transit, impacts on suburban sprawl. Kaid Benfield, Switchboard

It is just an interim ruling, but it is potentially an important one:  In a suit brought by inner-city, minority plaintiffs, the US District Court in Milwaukee has indicated that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) cannot enlarge a major urban freeway connection without further study of the project's impacts on transit-dependent populations and on regional suburban sprawl.  For now, the case is headed to mediation; but the court's ruling on legal issues in the case, as articulated in an opinion signed by federal judge Lynn Adelman, is potentially significant to other highway-expansion controversies with similar circumstances.

Then I went and read the entire opinion:

Court Opinion

Before me now is the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs seek an order prohibiting the agencies from taking further action in connection with the project pending a final decision on the merits of this case.
For the reasons stated below, I find that the plaintiffs have a likelihood of success on the merits and that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction.

There's a lot more in the 36 page court opinion that makes what was reported, breathlessly here, ring hollow.  First, this was a preliminary injunction which doesn't mean that the court is stating firmly that the plaintiff's case has merit, only that there's a likelihood that it does.  Second, even IF it's determined that the case has merit there's no getting around this:

The controlling statute at issue here, NEPA, “declares a broad national commitment to protecting and promoting environmental quality.” Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens
Council, 490 U.S. 332, 348 (1989). It has been described as a “procedural” or actionforcing” statute that does not “mandate particular results” but instead requires agencies to study and describe the environmental consequences of their proposed actions. Id. at 348–51; Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Nat. Res. Defense Council, 435 U.S. 519, 558 (1978). Thus, under NEPA, if an agency has adequately identified and evaluated the environmental effects of its proposed action, it is permitted to take that action even if the environmental effects will be devastating. Robertson, 490 U.S. at 350. Put differently, “NEPA merely prohibits uninformed—rather than unwise—agency action.”

This is NOT the wording of a ruling that's got the potential to be a "game-changer" as the sardine urbanists are currently classifying it. What it appears to be is more of a procedural hand-slap to an agency that tried to half-ass their way through an EIS review hoping that no-one would notice.  However, even IF the EIS revealed a benefit to attaching some form of public transportation component to this project, when you consider that the agency in charge of the project has no jurisdiction over mass transit, it's inherently clear in the judges decisions that they would be under no obligation to add it.

In other words, this is not a tool Blazek-Crossley, his dad and other members of the non-productive class can use to "stop" highway construction, but it is a possible way for TxDOT to distract them down the line by giving them input and then completely ignoring it. 

In a way, this shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, those who are constantly amazed by trinket governance are typically unaware when different trinkets are used to distract them from the real issues. 

Oooh!  Look!  Peak Oil!

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