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Eufaula Heritage Association v. Alabama Department of Transportation

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

January 29, 2015

EUFAULA HERITAGE ASSOCIATION, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

MYRON H. THOMPSON, District Judge.

Previously, the court denied a motion for a temporary-restraining order (TRO) to stop the widening of a road, from two to four lanes, in the historic district of the City of Eufaula, Alabama. City of Eufaula, Ala. v. Alabama Dep't of Transp., ___ F.Supp. 3d ____, 2014 WL 7369783, at *1 (M.D. Ala. 2014) (Thompson, J.). This case is now before the court on two other motions: a motion for preliminary injunction and an alternative motion for an injunction pending appeal. As explained below, the preliminary injunction, which seeks the same relief as the TRO motion did, will be denied as will the motion for injunction pending appeal.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs are three historic-preservation groups, [1] and the defendants are the Alabama Department of Transportation and its director, as well as the Federal Highway Administration and its division administrator.[2] The plaintiffs assert that the defendants violated § 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act (49 U.S.C. § 303), [3] § 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. § 470f), and the National Environmental Policy Act, also known as "NEPA" (42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq.). The court has federal-question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

This case arises out of the proposed widening of a 0.8-mile stretch of an Alabama road by the Alabama Department of Transportation. The street at issue here-North Eufaula Avenue-is located in Eufaula, Alabama. It currently has two lanes and runs through a historic district, with old houses lining each side and a 30-50 foot median of billowing trees that overhang the street. The street is featured in the Alabama Scenic Byway Program, which received some federal funding, and is a major source of tourism income for the city. In addition, the State received a federal grant for landscaping the street in the early 1990s and for repaving in the last five years.

The street is also part of Highway 431, a thoroughfare along the eastern side of Alabama that runs to the beach in Florida. Although the highway was originally two lanes, other parts have been widened in the past several decades. The segments of the highway north and south of Eufaula were authorized for widening from two to four lanes from the 1960s to the mid-1990s, with construction taking place throughout this time period. Both of those projects used federal money and complied with federal requirements. Overall, the federal government has contributed $47 million on 57 different projects for repair and widening parts of the highway in the county in which Eufaula is located. Although federal-review documents for these projects noted that they were part of the State's long-term plan for a four-lane corridor through eastern Alabama, the federal government did not fund or approve of the North Eufaula widening in any previous review.

While much of this highway is now four lanes, North Eufaula Avenue remains two lanes, creating congestion and safety concerns, according to the State. In 2005, the State tried to solve this problem by proposing a 6.8-mile bypass around Eufaula. The bypass was estimated to cost somewhere between $40 million and $120 million and to take around three years for construction.[4] For this bypass, the Federal Highway Administration completed a study on the environmental impact of the bypass and approved a request from the Alabama Department of Transportation to purchase real estate for the bypass. After the federal study, however, the Department withdrew the bypass project primarily based on cost concerns.[5]

Almost a decade later and earlier this year, the State decided to address the problem by widening North Eufaula. It decided to use only state funds on the project so that it could move "more quickly" and "more efficiently." The State began meetings on the issue with the community starting last spring and made a final decision sometime this fall. The project was released for bidding on December 5, 2014, and the State signed a contract for construction on December 10. The Transportation Department estimates that the project will cost slightly more than one million dollars.

Several days after the project was released for bidding, the plaintiffs brought this suit, requesting a TRO or, alternatively, a preliminary injunction to prevent the construction on North Eufaula Avenue. After briefing from both sides, the court denied the motion for a TRO. Eufaula, ___ F.Supp. 3d at ____, 2014 WL 7369783, at *1. The plaintiffs now renew their motion for a preliminary injunction or, in the alternative, request an injunction pending appeal. These motions are now before the court.

II. DISCUSSION

The court will first address the motion for a preliminary injunction and then move to the motion for injunction pending appeal.

A. Motion for Preliminary Injunction

In a motion for a preliminary injunction, the moving party must show "(1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of the underlying case, (2) the movant will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction, (3) the harm suffered by the movant in the absence of an injunction would exceed the harm suffered by the opposing party if the injunction issued, and (4) an injunction would not disserve the public interest." Grizzle v. Kemp, 634 F.3d 1314, 1320 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The defendants allege that the plaintiffs do not meet any of the requirements for a preliminary injunction. For the same reasons articulated in the TRO opinion, the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, and the court therefore denies the motion for a preliminary injunction. Although the court stands on its earlier reasoning-and that opinion should be read in conjunction with this one-the court will address several additional issues. First, it briefly will address the Federal Highway Administration's argument that the court should have denied relief on jurisdictional grounds before reaching its three-factor analysis. Next, the court will turn to the following issues raised by the plaintiffs: whether the court should have applied segmentation analysis; whether the court's pretext analysis was too narrow; whether the court should have held that the bypass was a functional equivalent of the current widening and therefore the widening was a major federal action; and finally whether the court underestimated the federal role in the widening of North Eufaula Avenue. The court will take each argument in turn.

i. Jurisdiction

Although it agrees with the court's conclusion on the TRO, the Highway Administration argues that the court erred in its legal approach by proceeding to its three-factor analysis even though there was no federal-agency action.

The court does not understand the Administration's argument. The court agrees that it lacks jurisdiction if there is no federal-agency action. But the three-factor analysis was the court's method for determining whether federal-agency action existed-that is, whether the 0.8-mile stretch that used state funds was federalized' due to related federal work on the same highway.[6] Put differently, the Administration invites ...


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