News | May 23, 2018

Conservation groups sue over illegal approval of $2.2B N.C. toll road

SELC today filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina challenging the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s illegal approval of the $2.2 billion 540 toll highway near Raleigh. The suit was filed on behalf of Sound Rivers and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The proposed highway would pave over 70 acres of wetlands, destroy more than 55,000 feet of streams, and cut through habitat essential to rare and endangered aquatic wildlife. For decades, the proposed toll road has failed to move forward due to its unprecedented cost, limited utility, and its impact on the natural environment. The Trump administration, however, is blindly pushing the project forward—by ignoring science, facts, and the law—and issuing an illegal permit.

The Biological Opinion issued by Trump’s Fish and Wildlife Service violates federal law at every step,” said Kym Hunter, an attorney with SELC. “The permit fails to adequately study the impact of the proposed $2.2 billion toll highway on endangered wildlife and their habitat, and fails to set in place protective measures to ensure their continued survival. This is just another example of disregarding science and the law in order to line the pockets of rich developers at taxpayers’ expense.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has not yet made a final decision to move forward with the toll highway. The conservation groups have been urging North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and state Transportation Secretary James Trogdon to hit pause on the expensive, outdated loop highway concept and pursue other lower-cost, less-damaging options.

The groups put forward an alternative solution, known as ACCESS2040, 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 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. Addressing the traffic challenges in this part of the Raleigh region in affordable ways that look beyond tolls will go a long way toward improving the area not just for possible future residents, but also for the many who already call it home. Read the filing here.