Raleigh 540 Extension Would Toll Drivers and Environment

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is pushing ahead with outdated plans to expand an expensive toll highway that would extend an outer loop around areas surrounding Raleigh. At a cost of at least $2.2 billion, the “Complete540” project would be the most expensive highway in North Carolina’s history, with tolls covering just a small fraction of this costly price tag. Some taxpayers would be hit with a double whammy to their wallets—paying for the $2.2 billion highway bill and then paying again in tolls to use the road their taxes helped build.

The 28-mile road would pave over 60 acres of wetlands, cross more than 55,000 feet of streams and cut right through some of the last remaining urban wild spaces critical to rare, endangered wildlife. By encouraging continued car use and long commutes, the road would increase heat trapping emissions and pollute the air breathed by people in nearby communities and Raleigh. The toll highway would completely alter the natural beauty of this area while doing little to help local residents.

Wasteful, Backwards Toll Highway
Evidence is clear that better alternatives exist than the massive $2.2B highway expansion. The 1980s vision of building loops around cities has been shown time and again to do nothing but exacerbate sprawling growth patterns and ultimately result in more gridlock, not less. Even the agency’s own travel time savings estimates show that the vast majority of drivers who might pay to use the $2.2B road would save fewer than ten minutes’ time from their commutes.

In 2018, we are facing a far different future than we did when this highway was originally envisioned decades ago. Gone are the preferences for suburban living and long commutes. The young, diverse, and talented workforce around Raleigh and moving to North Carolina instead wants vibrant cities with strong public transit systems and walkable, bikeable communities. At the same time, technology is changing, autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing is on the rise and it is clear to all that our transportation future will look very different than the past.

A Better, Cheaper Solution
With all the changes ahead, investing billions of taxpayer dollars in an outdated – and tremendously destructive – highway is unwise and irresponsible. The Southern Environmental Law Center asked [link to letter] NCDOT to pause and re-think the expensive Complete 540 expansion. On behalf of Sound Rivers and Clean Air Carolina, we worked with an expert transportation planner to develop an alternative, called “Access 2040” that focuses on upgrading existing roadways and expanding public transit choices that could be used by everyone to alleviate traffic, not just those that can afford to pay tolls every day. These solutions could be pursued incrementally and at a much lower cost, providing transportation solutions for all while our communities and our state adapt and take advantage of the exciting transportation future ahead.

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