Building Bridge Through Park Was Reasonable Where Alternative Was More Harmful

Thursday, August 30, 2018 7:54 am
August 2018 - Volume 46 Number 8

Although federal regulations discourage building new bridges across public parkland, doing so is reasonable if the only alternative would cause severe and immitigable social harm.

Facts: The City of Port St. Lucie in Florida has needed a third vehicle bridge since at least 1980. The two that cross the North Fork St. Lucie River have been beyond traffic capacity for decades. Merely widening the bridges wouldn't relieve the traffic, and so, after much study and consultation, the City decided to build a third bridge in 2008. Only one location met the purpose and need of the project, and so the City then set out to determine which of ten possible sites within that location would be best. The City consulted with at least six federal agencies, five state agencies, and four other groups to make its determination. Ultimately, it identified six build alternatives.

At that point, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHA), the lead federal agency involved in the project, began preparing an environmental impact statement, which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. In addition, the FHA was required to conduct an analysis under §4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. Section 4(f) analyses are required whenever a transportation project area contains parks, recreation areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, or historic sites. Here, the project area included three §4(f) properties: an aquatic preserve, a state park, and a city park.

The FHA determined that all of the possible build options would use some parkland. Thus, the FHA assesse[..]