Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I-515 Widening Project (and F Street Interchange)

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My name is Dahn Shaulis from the Stop the F Street Closure Coalition. Please ensure that these questions and concerns become part of the public record for the I-515 Widening Project. Some of my questions are specific to the F Street Interchange and its effect on the Westside neighborhood. However, I also have questions and concerns about the impact of this project for enabling unsustainable urban growth, urban sprawl, greater social inequality and greater environmental injustice. Having heard citizens at the 12/2/09 Public Information Meeting, it appears that some people have already been negatively impacted.

It is disturbing that members of the Southern Nevada Enterprise Community (SNEC), including State Senator Steven Horsford, were not briefed on the impacts on redevelopment in the area. At the 12/1/09 SNEC Board, Senator Horsford asked NDOT that the public comment period be extended. If the project is not planned for construction until 2026, it would seem prudent to gather more information through outreach to community members and public officials who may be impacted. Also, I saw no media representatives at the 12/2/09 Public Information Meeting.

As an ally to Westside residents, it appears that the F Street Interchange is meant to enrich the wealthy (i.e. Symphony Park and City Parkway) with little or no consideration of Westside residents.

1. What is NDOT’s role in ensuring planning equity for the F Street Interchange as it relates to environmental justice? Please be specific.

2. What will be the impact of the F Street Interchange be on transportation equity and environmental justice to Westside residents? Please be specific.

According to one NDOT official I spoke to, the Westside is an area of churches and few businesses and that the F Street closure was designed to help the people of the Westside maintain the current environment, away from the “hustle and bustle” of the city. But NDOT officials did little to ask the people of the Westside what they wanted. The plan to close F Street was made with no planning equity.

3. Given these statements from NDOT officials, does this mean that the I-515 Widening Project is designed to keep business traffic away from the F Street area (unless they are locally undesirable land uses—LULU’s—such as warehouses, homeless shelters, or a planned Immigration and Customs Enforcement Building)?

Having followed the progress of other NDOT/FHWA projects (I-15 to Apex, Project NEON), it appears to me that the agencies involved and their contractors are not adequately knowledgeable in environmental justice, planning equity, sustainability, and smart growth. The I-15 to Apex project disproportionately affected people of color and low-income populations, yet no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was completed. Complicity among the FHWA, NDOT, and City of Las Vegas resulted in an expensive mistake, the closure of F Street, that will cost tens of millions of dollars and several years to remediate. With Project NEON, a survey of potentially impacted people was done to examine environmental justice. The survey resulted in a dismal 22% response rate from the 800-900 people who may be displaced.

I suggest you consult with experts such as Robert Bullard, Henry Holmes and Don Chen who can assist in planning in a more environmentally just fashion with a strategy of smart growth. The timeline that I will provide you illustrates how planners have systematically ignored the concerns of Westside residents, including the closing of F Street. The public meeting for the I-515 Widening indicates that NDOT still doesn't get it.

NDOT/FHWA should not consider this project or even a modification of this project unless the area deals with water issues, public education, public transportation infrastructure, infill, and economic diversification. There is nothing in this preliminary plan that explains how expanding a highway will improve quality of life. As Mr. Sam Wright noted, this project was designed on population projections. It was also designed with an unrealistic vision of gambling and entertainment as a single-industry economy.

Similar plans to widen highways in other cities (Los Angeles, Atlanta) have ultimately resulted in extreme cases of gridlock. As one NDOT employee admitted to me at the 12/2/09 meeting, “expanding highways is a short-sighted approach.” If your employees understand this, why do you propose to continue this project and its design? How will the I-515 Project enable unsustainable sprawl in the Valley?

4. This project is based on what degree of infill or sprawl? Please be specific.

5. What long-range plans by NDOT and other agencies (Including Federal, State, County and City organizations, and agencies in California) do you know of for the West Side and other communities in Las Vegas? In the past, NDOT has denied knowledge of such plans. Please be specific.  

6. Given that the casino industry has been resistant to mass transit, such as a dedicated corridor for light rail or buses, what inter-agency coordination is there between this project and public transportation planning, including buses and light rail?