Activists in San Antonio are suing the Texas Dept. of Transportation for alleged failure to comply with the National Environmental Protection Act. They will now seek an injunction to thwart the January start of construction on a 4.9-mile-long first phase of a major toll road.

Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas and People for Efficient Transportation filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Antonio on Dec. 2. The suit alleges TexDOT performed only a cursory environmental assessment and failed to provide alternatives and an opportunity for public comment on the $83-million project to expand 4.9 miles of U.S. 281.

Local contractor Zachry Construction Corp. is slated next month to begin expanding the highway from four lanes to a 12-lane combination of toll road and frontage road. The expansion cuts through the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, which provides water to 3 million people and to rivers that house several endangered species. State regulations require treatment of storm water runoff for projects within the aquifer zone.

TexDOT says it performed an environmental assessment and found no need for an impact statement. “The environmental assessment came back as a finding of no significant impact,” says Frank Holzmann, TexDOT area engineer. The Federal Highway Administration and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved a water pollution abatement plan, he adds.

Plaintiffs question the abatement plan, which uses vegetative filter strips and earthen berms. Vegetative strips are typically used for roads of four lanes and less and berms are not an approved method of abatement, says Annalisa Peace, executive director for Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.