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US 95 Widening

SOUND: Freeway

PLASKON: The U-S 95 was built 26 years ago for 6-thousand cars an hour. When more cars than that want to get on, gridlock happens. Today 9-thousand cars an hour cram on to the freeway. Each one producing exhausts that float to freeway neighbors. OK Adcock Elementary is right next to the U-S 95 near the Rainbow Curve. The school sits 125 feet from the freeway. Under the plan to widen the U-S 95 it would be only 40 feet away. That's too close according to numerous studies from the National Institute of Health, to studies in California all the way up to Alaska. Joanne Spalding is an Attorney for the Sierra Club, which is suing the Federal Highway Administration to acknowledge these studies of the health risks of living or working near a freeway.

SPALDING: There are numerous studies that show that children who live or go to school next to a freeway have a higher incidence of asthma attacks and their lungs don't develop fully."

PLASKON: According to an Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment study those living or working within 300 feet of a freeway, have a 1-in-1 thousand times higher risk of developing cancer. The problem says Spalding is that when building new projects, the Federal AID Highway Act requires that the Federal Highway Administration evaluate and consider the whole breadth of information available to them in the best overall public interest. Spalding is arguing that the FHA didn't take into account these studies when it started a project to widen the U-S 95 widening 6 years ago.

Support comes from

SPALDING: They are concerned that this will have national implications and that other freeways would be subject to the same kind of review."

PLASKON: A Nevada judge dismissed the Sierra Club's case in March of last year. But it was appealed to the 9th circuit court, which issued a stay on paving road for the project. Calls to the Federal Highway Administration weren't returned. The Nevada Department of Transportation wrote a friend of the court brief in that case. Bob McKenzie is it's public information officer.

MCKENZIE: We feel that we have done the environmental process as outlined by the Federal Highway administration."

PLASKON: The US 95 widening is scheduled to open by the end of next year and according to the Nevada Department of Transportation the two extra lanes on each side of the freeway, one being a carpool lane, could double the capacity of the freeway. So far McKenzie says the case hasn't affected the project as they have been working on drainage, sound walls and demolishing properties. But he says that might change.

MCKENZIE: If it does go against us we will have to figure out how to deal with the congestion in a rather rapid manner.

PLASKON: The Sierra Club wants the case resolved as quickly as possible, it's members are stuck in traffic too and it's is concerned that the controversy is detracting from the real possibilities for the project. If the court finding is in favor of the Sierra Club, the Federal highway administration would have to disclose to the public that there is harmful and toxic pollution near the freeway. But that's not all says Spalding.

SPALDING: Ya we have to tell the public but then we can go ahead and do whatever we want. They at least have to adopt some mitigation measures. They still have a lot of flexibility. None of these statutes that we are suing under would preclude them from building them highway they just need to do it more consciously with mitigation measures.

PLASKON: The Sierra Club did try to open up a dialogue with the Federal Highway Administration before going to trail. It sent the FHA a list of potential mitigation measures that could be considered as a point for just opening discussion. It said, instead of providing just one carpool lane, how about two if the freeway is widened. Or implement measures that encourage telecommuting or strategies that encourage use of cleaner burning fuels. The FHA responded with a letter that said: "The far reaching nation wide effects on highway projects in the transportation industry reflected in your proposal provide no room for prospect of settlement."

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005