Federal agency stops defending flawed assessment of Charlotte toll road
Thursday the federal government abandoned its long-running defense of an illegal environmental review of the controversial and unneeded $900M Garden Parkway, a proposed toll highway project near Charlotte, N.C. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) filed a motion to dismiss its appeal of an earlier ruling in which a federal district court found that the review of the toll highway had been performed illegally. NCDOT is now the only party left defending the destructive toll highway.
FHWA’s move today comes more than three years after SELC filed a challenge to the Garden Parkway in federal court on behalf of two conservation groups, the Catawba Riverkeeper and Clean Air Carolina. When the groups first brought the case, NCDOT was poised to begin construction of the unneeded $900 million toll highway. The groups alerted permitting agencies that NCDOT’s analysis of the highway was fundamentally flawed and ensured that construction did not start until questions of legality were resolved.
As the legal questions played out, the conservation groups worked outside of the courtroom with state legislators to ensure that the toll highway was not given preferential treatment 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 based on 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 FHWA continued to defend their illegal analysis of the toll highway in court.
Ultimately, the conservation groups were successful in their challenge. The United States District Court of North Carolina ruled that the two transportation agencies had illegally relied on unsupported assumptions in their assessment of the toll highway. The transportation agencies asked the court to reconsider its opinion but the court again rejected the agencies. They then filed appeals in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. With today’s move by FHWA, NCDOT stands alone in its fight for the $900M toll road, but continues to actively advocate for the project at North Carolina state taxpayers’ expense.
SELC and our partners hope that NCDOT may now finally abandon its support for the destructive toll road.