Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Arlington County's lawsuit is about the HOT lanes project currently under construction from the Springfield interchange to just past the Dulles Toll Road; provided an incorrect acronym for the Federal Highway Administration; and referred to the Arlington County Board by the wrong name.

Federal planning official newest defendant in Arlington's HOT lanes lawsuit

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Arlington County has added a new name to its controversial civil rights lawsuit against a Virginia proposal to build high-occupancy toll lanes along interstates 95 and 395: that of a federal government employee in charge of highway planning.

Attorneys for the Arlington County Board this month added Edward S. Sundra, planning and environmental program manager for the Federal Highway Administration in Richmond, to its year-old federal lawsuit, which accuses Virginia and federal transportation officials of failing to consider air pollution's potential impact on the health of low-income and minority residents clustered near the highways in areas such as Shirlington.

The construction of the toll lanes would mean more vehicles on off-ramps and in residential neighborhoods, creating added congestion, Arlington officials say.

The I-395/95 HOT lanes would extend south from the Pentagon to Massaponax in Spotsylvania County, intersecting with the Beltway at the Springfield interchange. Construction was to have begun by this summer, but the project was delayed in August 2009 by state leaders due to concerns about financing the project and reservations by local leaders.

The highway that begins in Washington as I-395 and becomes I-95 in Springfield is one of the most congested in a region that is one of the most congested in the nation.

In court documents, the county says Sundra was "integrally involved and executed final decisions" for the HOT lanes project while he worked as a senior environmental specialist for the agency.

"Due to his pivotal role in the controversy of this case and his deliberate failure to consider the disparate impacts on minority populations of his decisions, Mr. Sundra is a necessary addition," court documents state.

Sundra, 45, did not return a message left at his office Friday seeking comment, and the FHWA declined to discuss the case.

The civil rights section of the suit claims Virginia failed to properly balance the added convenience afforded to the white, mostly suburban drivers in Spotsylvania and Stafford counties -- who would have "unimpeded access" to the toll roads -- with the needs of the more racially and socioeconomically diverse drivers who endure congestion in Arlington.

Critics say Arlington is unfairly, and personally, targeting state officials. Former Virginia transportation secretary Pierce R. Homer is named in the suit despite requests from the state's current transportation chief, Sean T. Connaughton, to transfer the suit to his office.

"It just seems incredibly mean-spirited," said Robert Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, an advocacy group that opposes the lawsuit. "These people have families, and they have to pay for their legal fees out of their own pockets. I mean, what's the point?"

Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette (D) said the county is not trying to halt the HOT lanes project but rather properly analyze the potential environmental impact on the surrounding communities.

"We've been willing since Day One, when the suit was filed, to negotiate," Fisette said. "In the last month or so, we've seen some outreach, particularly from Richmond, and we're engaged in that process now."

A separate HOT lanes project along the Capital Beltway is currently being constructed from the Springfield interchange to just past the Dulles Toll Road by a public-private partnership. That project, scheduled to be completed in 2013, is Virginia's most ambitious and expensive highway project.

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