Judge denies withdrawal of parkway extension assessment

10-4-2002

By Chandra Harris, News-Sentinel staff writer

The Federal Highway Administration will not be able to go back to the drawing board and revise a controversial environmental assessment of the proposed 4.2-mile extension of the Pellissippi Parkway, a judge has ruled.

Attorneys for FHWA filed a motion in early September in U.S. District Court in Nashville to allow the assessment to be withdrawn and reviewed. Judge Todd Campbell denied the motion Wednesday. The Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension group filed a lawsuit against the road project June 7.

According to the FHWA, federal funding of the project was suspended in response to the lawsuit. Another halt in the project was granted in the form of a preliminary injunction shortly after the lawsuit to stop the extension of the parkway from Old Knoxville Highway to East Lamar Alexander Parkway.

Nina Gregg, a member of the citizens group, said the FHWA wanted a chance "to fix" what should have been presented in the initial assessment. In court documents, the citizens group contends the defendants failed to adhere to the national Environmental Policy Act in approving the road project.

FHWA officials as well as Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner J. Bruce Saltsman Sr. are named as defendants, along with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

"The assessment is inadequate and is based on data from 20 years ago," said Susan Keller, president of the citizens group. "The assessment does not take into account urban sprawl, water and air quality nor other traffic problems that will occur if the extension is built," Keller explained. Keller wants these factors to be taken into account "so we are just in a waiting game to have our hearing date granted to ask for a more relevant and accurate environmental study to be done."

The group's attorney, Joe McCaleb, said a hearing date might not come until after the beginning of the year. "Even after this denied motion, there are still mounds of paperwork to be filed along with other administrative work to be done. We may or may not even go to trial. We will just have to see," he said.

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Chandra Harris may be reached at 865-342-6425, 865-981-9106 or harrisc@knews.com.

Copyright 2002, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.