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NAACP Lawsuit Contends Parkway Project Negatively Affects Residents


— December 25, 2020

Pennsylvania parkway project will unjustly affect Black residents, NAACP contends in new lawsuit.


Earthjustice and PennFuture have joined together to file a lawsuit on behalf of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) against Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation alleging its plan to upgrade Bayfront Parkway, a major thorough way that runs alongside Erie’s waterfront, will wind up reducing pedestrian access to the bay.  In doing so, it will unlawfully harm minority and low-income residents living in the area.

The Department of Transportation has created a $100 million plan in which several significant changes will be made, including the construction of roundabouts, pedestrian walkways, and underpasses that, it says, will increase traffic and, thus, improve neighborhood access to Presque Isle Bay.  Brian A. McNulty, the region’s top PennDOT official stated, “The heart of the project seeks to better connect travelers of all kinds from the city of Erie to the bayfront.”

In the lawsuit, the NAACP disagrees, saying the plan will actually decrease access to an area by acting as a “fortified barrier” that “will become that much more of an impediment to the historically Black neighborhoods around it, while worsening air and water quality.”  The lawsuit also alleges, “PennDOT has ignored residents’ concerns to barrel ahead with its plans, using a shortcut environmental review process illegally granted by the Federal Highway Administration.”  The Federal Highway Administration is also named as a defendant in the suit.

NAACP Lawsuit Contends Parkway Project Negatively Affects Residents
Photo by Terry McKay on Unsplash

“Members of our NAACP unit and generations of Erie bayfront residents have seen similar projects come and go promising improvements that have not been realized for our community.  With the Parkway project’s clear priorities of attracting conventions and out-of-town visitors, our voice and opinion about the character and needs of the neighborhood are being ignored once again,” said Gary Horton, President of NAACP’s Erie Chapter. “People live here, and we have lived here since the 1800s when West Erie Bayfront was called New Jerusalem and the current NAACP members’ ancestors settled in the area.  We deserve to have the opportunity to comment on the parkway design and to be taken seriously by the entities looking to expand the parkway and increase traffic in our neighborhoods.”

Angela Kilbert, an attorney for PennFuture, added, “PennDOT has failed to conduct a thorough evaluation of this project’s impacts on Erie’s valuable environmental resources, including the long-term impacts on water quality in Millcreek and Presque Isle Bay. Stormwater runoff is already a major threat to water quality in the Lake Erie watershed.  This project will lead to increased traffic and more impervious surface areas, creating more runoff into the Bay, negatively impacting water quality and increasing the potential for flooding.”

The plaintiffs want to ensure the communities impacted will not have to face negative consequences of having more out-of-towners and traffic drawn to the area, including potentially substantial environmental concerns.  The groups wish to block federal funding for the Bayfront Parkway until changes are made that align with federal environmental law.

Earthjustice attorney Jill Witkowski Heaps said the lawsuit is “part of a larger reckoning taking place across the country about how highways built through minority communities have contributed to redlining and structural racism.  Such highways were designed to serve the needs of motorists but have decimated the communities through which they run.”

Sources:

NAACP Files Lawsuit Over Erie Highway Plan, Waterfront Access

Groups file lawsuit against PennDOT, Fed. Hwy Admin, Erie Bayfront Parkway Project

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