A Toll Road to Sprawl
Transportation Expert Says DOT’s Analysis Insufficient to Support Building $900M Monroe Bypass
The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s recent analysis of the Monroe Bypass is so flawed that it cannot justify the decision to build the $900 million highway according to a report released today by transportation planner David T. Hartgen, Ph.D, P.E. Read more in the press release.
Traffic on US 74 east of Charlotte is bad, and it's clear that something needs to be done. But paving over hundreds of acres of woods and century-old farms to build a 20-mile toll road at a cost of almost $900 million is not the answer.
Better solutions exist that are fiscally responsible and would protect the region's air and water quality, but the NC Department of Transportation and local officials want to plow ahead with the Monroe Bypass.
In 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with SELC that federal and state agencies illegally failed to consider and disclose to the public the potential sprawl-inducing impacts of the 20-mile highway bypass near Charlotte.
Bypass would saddle taxpayers with decades of debt
The proposed highway would run parallel to US 74, bypass the city of Monroe and connect to the I-485 beltway southeast of Charlotte. NCDOT and the North Carolina Turnpike Authority are touting it as a toll road. Local commuters would have to pay as much as $1,300 a year to use the highway, yet that revenue is projected to cover less than a third of the project's $898 million cost. To make up the difference, taxpayers statewide will be required to fork out $24 million a year for up to 40 years.
That's funding that can't be spent on critically needed transportation projects in the Charlotte region or elsewhere. North Carolina has billions of dollars of transportation needs and a severe shortfall in funding. We should not be spending our scarce transportation resources on this massive, unnecessary project.
NCDOT botched environmental study for bypass
SELC has opposed this project for years due to the unacceptable impact on water quality and wildlife habitat in the Yadkin River watershed and little or no benefit to local communities. Further, the Monroe Bypass would lure sprawl development of subdivisions and strip malls, which would increase traffic in the corridor, and add to tailpipe pollution in greater Charlotte, which already fails to meet federal air quality standards for protecting public health.
SELC has identified numerous flaws in the state's newest assessment of environmental impacts from the bypass:
- The study ignores the dramatic results of recent small scale improvements to US 74 and the potential for future similar low-cost solutions to improve traffic flow.
- The study vastly overstates the traffic levels that would result along US 74 if the toll road were not built and, thus, manufactures a need for the road.
- The study use pre-recession data to forecast growth in Union County and vastly overstates levels of development that are likely to occur.
Better solutions for solving US 74 traffic
The good news is that there are less destructive, less costly ways to undo traffic congestion in the US 74 corridor. Upgrades to local road networks and improvements to the existing US 74 are starting to enhance efficiency in the corridor. According to NCDOT's own report in 2007 (click here for a pdf ), improving existing roads and connections would fix all but one of the traffic bottlenecks, at an approximate cost of just $13.3 million. After SELC brought attention to this study in 2010, some of the suggested solutions have been implemented, but many more remain that could be of great benefit to Union County drivers.
The Monroe project is one of a half dozen proposals in the state's transportation planning pipeline that continue the outdated vision of building a massive system of expensive, sprawling beltways and bypasses throughout North Carolina. Getting the study right, rather than rubber-stamping the Turnpike Authority's narrow perspective on available alternatives and their impacts, is critical to the state's transportation future.