Speak up now to oppose destructive $2.2 billion 540 toll project

A number of streams and wetlands would be paved over under North Carolina’s $2.2 billion plan for addressing traffic around Raleigh. (© Bill Lea)

In the midst of recovery from Hurricane Florence, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has submitted an application for permits so that it can move forward with the most expensive and damaging highway projects North Carolina has ever seen. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the North Carolina Division of Water Resources are currently accepting public comments on the permit applications, making it an important time for citizens to let their voices be heard.

The controversial Complete 540 toll highway would cause unprecedented destruction to the aquatic environment, destroying or degrading 70 acres of wetlands, 60,000 feet of streams, hundreds of ponds, and 145 acres of riparian buffers that protect the area’s water quality. In the process, the highway would jeopardize the continued existence of a number of aquatic species, including the Atlantic sturgeon and the dwarf wedgemussel and yellow lance mussel. Rather than the smart, dense growth that our community needs, the proposed highway would encourage sprawling unplanned growth across southern Wake County, destroying green spaces and further degrading water and air quality, while doing little to fix traffic woes.

The massive cost of this highway makes it a bad deal for North Carolina. At $2.2 billion, it would be the most expensive highway project in North Carolina history, with tolls covering just a small fraction of this enormous price tag. And because travelers will have to pay a toll to use the road, its use will be limited to those who can afford it. At a time when our state’s poorest communities are looking to recover from a devastating hurricane, this is an unfortunate use of North Carolina taxpayer resources. 

SELC and its partners have urged NCDOT to look at lower cost alternative solutions that would rely on upgrading existing roads and innovative transportation improvements to reduce congestion throughout the Complete 540 project area at a much lower cost. ACCESS2040 would cost just $293.7 million above already-planned improvements, compared to the $2.2 billion price tag for Complete 540, and the ACCESS2040 upgrades would be open to all, rather than only those able to pay a pricey toll.  

NCDOT has applied for a Clean Water Act “water quality certification” from the North Carolina Division of Water Resources. Comments on this permit are due December 8. Written comments may be submitted at the following address:

NCDWR Central Office, Attention: Ms. Amy Chapman, Transportation Permitting Unit, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1617 

NCDOT also has applied for a Clean Water Act “dredge and fill” permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Comments on this permit are due by October 25. Written comments may be submitted to the Corps at the following address:

Eric Alsmeyer, Raleigh Regulatory Field Office, 3331 Heritage Trade Drive, Suite 105, Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587 

This comment period provides an opportunity for the public to consider the effects that Complete 540 would have, particularly on our water resources, and to have a say in the agencies’ decisions on whether to issue permits for the project. Please consider adding your voice to this important discussion about what we want our future to look like.  

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