Today, Earthjustice and clients the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP – Erie Unit) and Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction in the Erie Bayfront Parkway case because the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced during an August 24, 2022 public meeting that construction could begin on the Sassafras Roundabout as soon as this November. Additionally, PennDOT will begin soliciting contract bids for the construction in September.
The Sassafras Roundabout is part of the redesign currently being litigated in the Erie Bayfront Parkway case, filed on December 15, 2020 with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Through the litigation, our clients have sought two main objectives: 1) a meaningful input on the project design through a public hearing with a transcript to be provided to the federal government that lays out their comments and concerns about the Erie Bayfront Parkway’s proposed redesign; and 2) a full environmental review and compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). PennDOT’s proposed redesign will increase traffic speed, take out traffic lights — which will make it more difficult for pedestrians to cross — increase noise and water pollution, and cut off the downtown from the Bayfront. NAACP and PennFuture do not object to a redesign of the current parkway, but do object to a vehicles-first plan that will not address pollution or safety concerns. With a project of this size and cost with its impact on Erie for years to come, our clients want it to be the right redesign for the City of Erie and its citizens.
Currently, a motion pending before the Court could resolve the case completely by determining that the plaintiffs are correct and PennDOT made procedural errors in its environmental review and failure to hold a public hearing. If the plaintiffs win, PennDOT would need to restart the environmental review process and hold a public hearing. If the project is fully or partially constructed before those motions are decided, however, the plaintiffs will not be able to get an adequate remedy for their claims. As a result, we are asking the court to use its power to stop construction of the portions of the parkway that are the subject of the lawsuit until after it makes a ruling on the environmental and public participation claims that are currently pending. When a court issues a preliminary injunction, one party must stop doing what the other party claims is unlawful until the case is resolved. The court has to weigh whether the party seeking the injunction is likely to prevail and will be irreparably harmed if the other party proceeds without stopping.
The following statement is attributed to Hillary Aidun, associate attorney at Earthjustice:
“This lawsuit aims to ensure that Erie residents have a say in their city’s future. Because PennDOT plans to start construction soon — even though the lawsuit is still pending — we have to ask the court to protect the environment and our clients’ rights by pausing the project until the case is decided.”
Read more about the lawsuit: Challenging the Erie Bayfront Parkway Project