NCDOT sorting out next steps for Monroe Bypass
With the future of the Monroe Bypass now unclear, officials with the Southern Environmental Law Center say now is a good time for local leaders to examine whether the project still makes sense.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. ruled Thursday, May 3, that the N.C. Department of Transportation violated federal policy, “Because the agencies failed to disclose critical assumptions underlying their decision to build the road and instead provided the public with incorrect information, they did indeed violate NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act). … The agencies failed to take the required ‘hard look’ at environmental consequences.”
This week, David Farren with the SELC said he and his team will be watching the NCDOT and other agencies very closely as they work through this ruling.
“Under the National Environmental Protection Act, the law the court relied on striking down the bypass study, they need to take an open and honest look at both impacts and alternatives and it’s clear that didn’t happen,” Farren said. “So, from our perspective, it’s not just a question of checking off boxes and jumping through hoops to get back to where they were. The law requires they take an open look at alternatives and impacts and anything that suggests it’s just a delay and (they’ve) already made up their minds to move forward is not consistent with the federal law.”
Matthews property owner Roger Martin also will be on the lookout. He represents a group of property owners along Independence Commerce Drive in Matthews who have vowed to spend about $160,000 to extend the road to Stevens Mill Road in hopes of preserving their livelihoods. Businesses along Independence Commerce will lose direct access to Independence Boulevard/U.S. 74, when the bypass is built. Independence Commerce is a dead-end street off U.S. 74 with connection to Mount Harmony Church Road. The street falls inside Matthews’ town limits, but properties off it are split between Matthews and Stallings. The project will build 400 feet of roadway connecting Independence Commerce to Stevens Mill Road.
Martin bought office property there in 2000.
But construction won’t begin until the bypass is a sure thing.
“We’re just going to sit tight until we get some resolution on this,” Martin said.
Farren said the transportation agencies conducted the bypass study as if the road — along with the traffic and development that would accompany the new 20-mile road with nine interchanges — was already there and that U.S. 74 couldn’t handle the load, even with some sort of fix for the congested highway.
“So by assuming the project alternative analysis, they doubled the project and tried to squeeze it on 74 and you can’t do that,” he said. “If they do this study right, it’s not only an open question if they should move forward, but very much open if they can get permits for the project.
Reid Simons with the NCDOT said he had no information yet on the next steps for the department.
“We are investigating all of our options and what this opinion means for the environmental process, financial implications, and legal and judicial steps we need to take to address the court’s concerns and then move the project to construction,” Simons said. “The NCDOT/Turnpike Authority and local communities are committed to the project and are doing everything possible to address the court’s concerns in a timely manner. Our design/build team United Infrastructure, Boggs Paving, Anderson Construction and RK&K also are standing in support and will work with us on a solution to move this project forward.”