by Mike Parks
An appeals court decision not to rehear the case over the environmental study of the Monroe Bypass, is forcing state transportation officials to halt the project for now.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May that the North Carolina Department of Transportation violated federal mandates by not conducting the appropriate environmental impact studies, thereby manipulating the actual results showing the “need” for the construction of the bypass. The NCDOT appealed that ruling, and in the meantime kept working to obtain right of way for possible construction of the bypass until told to stop by the Federal Highway Administration.
Now, things are coming close to a standstill on the project.
“… we are suspending most work on this project,” read a recent statement from the NCDOT after the ruling. The statement says the N.C. Turnpike Authority is reviewing all the issues raised in the court’s earlier decision about the environmental study, and will determine what additional study might be needed.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals originally ruled the NCDOT and other agencies 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.”
The lawsuit was brought against the NCDOT by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina, North Carolina Wildlife Federation and Yadkin Riverkeeper who argued NCDOT did the environmental impact study using incorrect comparisons and assumed the traffic projected for the bypass, once created, was already prevalent in the area, which they used in their study as the basis for the project’s necessity, opting to not further investigate other alternatives to a 20-mile toll road with nine interchanges stretching from U.S. 74 at I-485 to U.S. 74 in Marshville.
“Today’s decision denying NCDOT’s petition confirms the court’s earlier ruling and underscores the need for NCDOT to revisit its analysis for the proposed toll road,” read a statement from the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The agency will now need to restart its analysis of environmental impacts and alternatives, and eventually reapply for state and federal permits. The groups have long contended that NCDOT failed to look at more cost-effective and environmentally sound ways to address traffic congestion on U.S. 74 that could be achieved for a tiny fraction of the cost of the proposed toll highway.”
The NCDOT statement did not go into further detail other than to say more review would be done of the situation. Property owners who have questions about right of way purchases can call 704-893-0131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The proposal for the Monroe Bypass is for 19.7 miles of highway from U.S. 74 at Interstate 485 in Matthews to U.S. 74 between Wingate and Marshville.
A group of property owners along Independence Commerce Drive in Matthews 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 because Independence Commerce is a dead-end street. But construction to connect Independence Commerce to Stevens Mill Road won’t begin until the bypass is a sure thing, property owner Roger Martin said recently.