Ruling leaves N.C. toll road in doubt

Appeals court says NCDOT used the wrong data in its environmental impact study

Editorial/Commentary News Charlotte Observer, NCDOT May 11, 2012
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Charlotte, N.C.’s first toll road might not get built, according to a report in the Charlotte Observer, after a federal appeals court unanimously ruled that the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) "failed to disclose critical assumptions . . . and instead provided the public with incorrect information."


The Monroe Bypass is a $725 million, 19.7-mile new roadway from U.S. 74 at I-485 in eastern Mecklenburg County to U.S. 74 between the towns of Wingate and Marshville in Union County. It bypasses a congested area of U.S. 74 in Union County.


Federal policy requires NCDOT to perform a detailed environmental impact analysis, but the court found “fundamental flaws in their analysis,” according to David Farren, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., who represented several environmental groups that sued to stop the highway.


The environmental groups said NCDOT evaluated the “no-build” alternative using data that included the bypass, so it was really making a “build vs. build” comparison. The mistake revealed very little environmental impact from building the highway and made it easier for NCDOT to get permits.


The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was concerned the bypass might harm the Carolina heelsplitter mussel, a federally endangered species.


The court said NCDOT “incorrectly stated that the Monroe Connector was not factored into the 'no build' baseline." When skeptics questioned NCDOT about the analysis, the court wrote, "rather than take these opportunities to make a 'candid acknowledgement' of what they knew to be the truth, the agencies maintained that the 'no build' data did not include [the road]."


In a statement, NCDOT Secretary Gene Conti said: “We have received the opinion from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on the Monroe Bypass case.  We are reviewing the ruling with our legal and environmental experts. Once we have reviewed this ruling, we will work on our legal and procedural options to advance the project by addressing the court’s concerns as soon as possible.  While this ruling will cause delays, it does not mean the project will not move forward. We hope to have a new plan and timeline developed and released to the public within the next few weeks.”

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