Benefit of Proposed Havelock Bypass in Craven County in Question
The state Department of Transportation has presented little or no convincing evidence that the proposed Havelock Bypass of US 70 would yield actual economic benefits that might outweigh the significant potential harm to the environment, conservation groups say.
In comments filed late yesterday, the groups say NCDOT’s draft environmental impact study omits important data, limits the analysis of alternatives, and fails to adequately consider the full range of environmental impacts of the project. The agency’s lopsided analysis short-changed a true evaluation of a combination of alternatives that could better serve the region.
The proposed bypass is part of the “Super 70” effort that aims to bypass several small towns and businesses along US 70 to provide a freeway between Raleigh and the port at Morehead City and Carteret County beaches. The stated goal of the bypass is to enhance the economic prospects of North Carolina’s southeast region, however, that goal is not supported by quantifiable data, and is unlikely to be achieved by completion of the Havelock Bypass, the groups say.
In their letter to the agency, the Southern Environmental Law Center, North Carolina Coastal Federation, the Cypress Group of the NC Sierra Club and North Carolina Wildlife Federation critique in detail the multiple flaws with the draft environmental study which is required by federal law for major projects.
Just this week, the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program also sent letters to NCDOT expressing serious concerns about the preferred alternative.
“Generating economic development in southeastern North Carolina is important, but building a highway that would bypass established businesses is not the way,” said SELC attorney Chandra Taylor. “Studies and experience from around the country show that bypasses almost always hurt local business. And this particular project would have clearly damaging effects on the natural attributes of the Croatan National Forest.”
The conservation groups detail numerous flaws, errors and violations in the environmental study:
- Each of the three alternatives for the project would destroy a large segment of the Croatan National Forest, threatening established game land and designated black bear sanctuary, and destroy or disturb hundreds of acres of longleaf pine forests. The Croatan is home to high-quality longleaf pine forests, which once defined the coastal plain but have now been reduced to a fraction of their historic range. Several rare species, including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, depend on these forests.
- Bypassed businesses will suffer. On average, retail sales decrease when a bypass is built around a community. Research has shown that retail businesses that cater to pass-through traffic, such as gas stations and fast food restaurants, are the most likely to be impacted by reduced traffic. In the US 70 area of Craven County, there are few opportunities to relocate since much of the land is publicly owned national forest.
- There is scant economic justification for the project. Creating a freeway to Morehead City, a small port that has been in steady decline since the 90s, makes no sense in a time of limited fiscal resources.
- The proposed route for a Havelock Bypass would not improve safety in Craven County. The environmental study states that crash rates along US 70 are higher than the rest of the state, but the bypass only avoids one of the four most dangerous sections of US 70 in the county.
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