News | September 16, 2015

Conservation groups file appeal of Monroe Bypass case

Conservation groups have filed an appeal in federal court saying that last week’s ruling by a district court judge failed to properly scrutinize the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s review of the $838 million Monroe Bypass. SELC filed the appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on behalf of Clean Air Carolina, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and the Yadkin Riverkeeper.

The groups maintain that the N.C. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration violated federal law when they ignored a decade of changes along the U.S. 74 highway corridor in Union County that have made alternative solutions, such as upgrades to the local road network, far more efficient and cost-effective solutions than the expensive Bypass.

“We’re hopeful that, after a full review of the record, the Court of Appeals will conclude that NCDOT failed to conduct the review of a full range of more efficient and less costly alternative solutions that federal law requires,” said Attorney Kym Hunter.

Working with expert transportation planners, NCDOT’s own data, and local Union County communities, the conservation groups identified a number of specific lower-cost improvements that would have a swift and direct impact on relieving congestion along the existing highway and improving driver safety. But when these solutions were presented to NCDOT they were ignored.   

“Spending over $800 million on a new Bypass just doesn’t make sense anymore,” said June Blotnick, Executive Director of Clean Air Carolina. “NCDOT’s own data show that taking the toll road would save travelers only 8 to 12 minutes, making taxpayers spend $100 million for every minute of time saved. NCDOT has a duty to taxpayers and responsibility under federal law to properly investigate less expensive solutions that will provide real benefits for Union County.”    

Earlier this year, Union County residents visited the state legislature to urge that targeted low-cost solutions be explored in place of the Bypass. These residents want solutions that would actually improve travel for local drivers in Union County — rather than allowing those able to pay a toll to entirely bypass the county and its businesses. Five Union County municipalities have passed resolutions urging alternative solutions.

But in the budget released yesterday by the legislature hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars remain earmarked to be spent specifically on the unneeded $838 million Monroe Bypass over the next forty years. The Bypass also remains as the only un-built transportation project exempted from the state’s new data-drive scoring process.

The ruling by the federal court on the Monroe Bypass last week was handed down alongside another ruling in which the same judge found that NCDOT violated federal law in its review of another toll highway project, the Garden Parkway. NCDOT has not yet said whether it will appeal that ruling.