A ruling today by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on a legal challenge to the Garden Parkway, a proposed toll highway project near Charlotte, N.C., found that it is not a viable project under current funding and planning realities. In ruling that the legal challenge to the Garden Parkway is moot and effectively dead, the court recognized NCDOT’s statements in court that the $900 million project is “defunct” and their assertion that the legal document supporting its construction is now “really a nullity.”
Conservation groups represented by SELC long fought the controversial, unneeded toll road. Previously, a federal district court found that the environmental review of the toll highway had been performed illegally. Soon after that decision, the Federal Highway Administration dropped its appeal of that decision, leaving only the North Carolina Department of Transportation to defend the $900 million highway.
“We were pleased to hear NCDOT state in open court that it has finally given up in its attempt to construct this wasteful and destructive project.” ” said Staff Attorney Kym Hunter.”
The Fourth Circuit’s decision today comes more than four years after SELC first filed a challenge to the Garden Parkway in federal court on behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper and Clean Air Carolina. When the groups first brought the case, North Carolina Department of Transportation was poised to begin construction of the unneeded toll highway. The groups alerted permitting agencies that the agency’s analysis of the highway was fundamentally flawed and ensured construction did not commence until questions of illegality had been resolved.
“The Garden Parkway was tremendously unpopular in Gaston County and residents there widely understood that it was basically a billion dollar boondoggle that wouldn’t relieve congestion or bring jobs to our county,” former Belmont City Councilman Bill Toole said. “SELC did a phenomenal job bringing out the issues and helping stop this unwanted toll road to nowhere.”
As NCDOT dragged out the legal fight, the conservation groups worked with state legislators to make sure the toll highway project was not given preferential earmark funding over higher need projects in the state. Legislation passed in 2013 stripped the road of its earmarked funding and required it to be vetted through a new data-driven scoring process adopted by the state and based on a criteria of need. Not surprisingly, the project received an abysmal score and in 2015 was removed from the state’s ten-year transportation plan. Despite the poor score, NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration continued to inexplicably defend the illegal analysis underlying the toll highway in court.
In today’s decision, the Fourth Circuit considered the likelihood of the Garden Parkway proceeding under current environmental documents as a “remote possibility,” and focused on NCDOT’s own statements that the Garden Parkway is “no longer viable.”
Read The Charlotte Observer coverage here: Federal court rules Garden Parkway is still not viable.