Case 135

Streater v. United States Department of Transportation, No. CIV. A. 95-2162 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 25, 1996).

Plaintiffs, an individual and an environmental association, challenged a 3.5-mile extension of a highway approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), plaintiffs argued that DOT failed to consider the impact of the interchange design and to identify all historic properties potentially affected by the project.

The district court opinion addressed the issue of plaintiffs' standing to sue, focusing on plaintiffs' alleged injuries. The court first addressed plaintiffs' claim that they would be harmed by a negative economic impact of the route expansion as a result of development in the surrounding area which plaintiffs argued would be an indirect effect of the expansion. The court found that the plaintiffs would not suffer economic harm because they did not allege that they owned businesses in the area or lived or shopped in the areas identified as being affected by the project. Slip op. at 2. Specifically, the court determined that plaintiffs had not asserted a particularized interest and could, therefore, not meet the standing requirement. Further, the court found that plaintiffs had not demonstrated a causal connection between the extension of the route and economic harm. The court declined to accept plaintiffs' allegations that the 3.5-mile road project would have so significant an impact on businesses in three nearby cities that the quality of life and shopping would decline, finding them too speculative. Slip op. at 3. With regard to the allegations of economic harm, the court finally found that plaintiffs' allegations would not be redressable by the court.

As another injury plaintiffs alleged that the road expansion would result in suburban sprawl and thus affect plaintiffs' aesthetic interest in the enjoyment of the green spaces in the valley. The court determined that the possible suburban sprawl was not sufficiently caused by the road project but, rather, was contingent upon other factors such as willing buyers and sellers of property and approval of municipal subdivisions. Thus, the court held that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a causal connection between the extension project and the suburban sprawl. Slip op. at 4.

With regard to plaintiffs' allegation that defendants did not take into account the effect of the extension on historic properties in the area, the court found plaintiffs did not identify any particular harm which might result to either the historic structures or to plaintiffs' enjoyment of them because plaintiffs' allegations were viewed as an "abstract injury or generalized grievance" the court held that plaintiffs failed to meet the standing requirements. Id. The court observed that plaintiffs had improperly alleged injury flowing from the alleged violation of the law rather than an injury arising from an identified impact upon the historic structures which affects plaintiffs' aesthetic interests. Further, the court noted that plaintiffs failed to assert that they visited or planned to visit the historic sites, explaining that the mere possibility or general intention of someday visiting or enjoying a site is insufficient to establish an imminent injury to plaintiffs' aesthetic interest. Similarly, as a final argument, the individual plaintiff alleged that travel by bicycle or on foot would be hindered by the route expansion; however, the court found that the individual plaintiff did not allege a particularized injury because he failed to assert that he ever traveled by foot or bicycle between the two cities allegedly affected by the project.

The court dismissed the action for lack of standing.

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