SELC today filed a slew of new claims and added new defendants in the lawsuit challenging the $2.2 billion 540 toll highway planned south of Raleigh. These new claims challenge the agencies’ failure to adequately study and disclose the impact of the massive toll highway—including how construction of a new-location, twenty-seven mile toll road will contribute to climate changing emissions and how the road will affect low-income and minority communities. The conservation groups also challenge the agencies’ failure to adequately consider alternatives to Complete540 that would be less destructive and more cost effective.
The proposed highway would pave over 70 acres of wetlands, destroy more than 55,000 feet of streams, and cut through the area’s few remaining green spaces. By encouraging unplanned growth to sprawl out of Raleigh and into Southeast Wake County, the toll highway would also have devastating impacts on air quality, would increase stormwater run-off, and would contribute to the rise in dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the project, which would require a costly toll, would be unaffordable for many segments of the population, meaning that low income communities would suffer more of the costs of the project with less benefit.
The conservation groups had urged North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and the state Secretary of Transportation, Jim Trogdon, to pause the expensive, outdated loop highway concept and pursue other lower-cost, less-damaging options.
“Last September, Governor Cooper signed a pledge to cut North Carolina’s greenhouse gas emissions to meet the targets of the Paris Accord,” said Senior Attorney Kym Hunter. “Unfortunately, this $2.2 billion NCDOT toll project undermines the governor’s commitment and locks residents into an outdated product of the past: expensive loop highways around cities that lead to sprawl, increased driving, and contribute to a low quality of life. Complete 540 is the epitome of bad policy.”
The claims, which were filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, add the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Marine Fisheries Service as Defendants to the lawsuit. SELC is representing Sound Rivers, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Clean Air Carolina in the suit.
The groups have put forward an alternative solution, ACCESS2040, which would rely on upgrading existing roads and innovative transportation improvements to reduce congestion throughout the Complete 540 project area at a much lower cost. This alternative solution would cost just $293.7 million above already-planned improvements, compared to the $2.2 billion price tag accompanying the 540-extension proposal. Unlike the 540 extension, ACCESS2040 would be open to all users—not just those willing and able to pay a pricey toll. ACCESS2040 would also cause significantly less environmental destruction.
The conservation groups point to the economic development opportunities ignited when cities turn their emphasis to fostering walkable, bikeable, vibrant communities rather than sprawl. Large companies like Amazon and Apple have been clear that they value these qualities as they search for a new headquarters.