News | May 29, 2015

SELC transportation strategies pay dividends in North Carolina


All across the South, transportation policy has traditionally favored large, expensive highways. The ramifications of this approach are substantial: open space lost to asphalt, environmental destruction, air pollution—including greenhouse gasses—increased driving, and sprawl.

SELC is working to implement a new vision: a real consideration of more efficient and less damaging alternative solutions to our transportation challenges, an honest assessment of the costs and benefits of proposals, decisions based on a project’s merit, not politics, and public engagement in an open, transparent process.

Our focus is yielding huge benefits across our region, and some of our most dramatic recent success has occurred in North Carolina, where SELC has helped to slow or stop more than $1.7 billion in wasteful and harmful transportation spending around Charlotte.

The Monroe Bypass: Legal Leverage and Public Engagement

When the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) submitted a plan to construct the Monroe Bypass, an $850 million, 20-mile toll road east of Charlotte, SELC noticed something was amiss: The development that the proposed road would generate was used as a justification to build the road in the first place: because houses would be built near the new road, the state seemed to be saying, we need to build the road so people can get to get to the houses.

But when NCDOT assessed the project’s environmental impact, it did just the opposite, ignoring development altogether.

SELC’s legal challenge stopped the project in its tracks, giving us time to push for far less expensive, less damaging improvements to existing roads. We also engaged local communities, who worried the new road could hurt local businesses and change the character of the area.

Because of this local pressure, NCDOT began to implement many of the small-scale fixes we advocated, and a far different picture of the Monroe Bypass emerged: the 25-30 minutes the road was supposed to save drivers shrank to 8-12 minutes—savings that should become even smaller with continued improvements.

The Garden Parkway: Reaching decision-makers

The proposed $930 million Garden Parkway west of Charlotte relied on the same flawed analysis that marked the Monroe Bypass plan. Once again, SELC was able to stop construction with a legal challenge and public engagement. We then took the case against the road to key decision-makers, especially conservative legislators concerned about wasteful government spending.

SELC helped the state implement a new scoring system to prioritize transportation projects based on merit, not political considerations. When legislators agreed to put the Garden Parkway through the new system, it came back with an abysmal score. Eventually, SELC won the legal battle too when a federal judge ruled the environmental review violated the law.


Thanks to SELC, the Garden Parkway is likely dead, and we are working to end the Monroe Bypass plan once and for all. More importantly, SELC is deploying many of the strategies used in Charlotte throughout our six-state region, using our unique combination of legal leverage, policy expertise, and the ability to stick with cases for years to build a new transportation future.