Press Release | February 21, 2019

Conservation Groups Challenge Deficient Water Quality Permit for $2.2 Billion 540 Toll Road

RALEIGH, N.C. – On behalf of Sound Rivers, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Clean Air Carolina, the Southern Environmental Law Center today filed a petition in North Carolina’s Office of Administrative Hearings challenging the state’s issuance of a water quality certification permitting the construction of the $2.2 billion 540 toll highway south of Raleigh.  The project would be the most expensive in North Carolina’s history. 

This petition challenges the NC Division of Water Resources’ failure to consider the toll highway’s devastating impacts on water quality, endangered aquatic species, and development patterns in Wake County, as well as the Division’s failure to consider other cost-effective and less environmentally destructive alternatives. 

The proposed toll highway would tear through 57,000 linear feet of streams and 70 acres of wetlands.  By encouraging unplanned growth to sprawl out of Raleigh and into Southeast Wake County, the toll highway would also increase impervious surfaces and associated stormwater-runoff, contribute to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, and degrade local air quality.  Furthermore, users of the highway would have to pay a hefty toll which would be unaffordable for many segments of the population, forcing low income communities to suffer all of the costs associated with highway construction and operation and obtain no benefit.   

“We are disappointed that Governor Cooper’s administration continues to aggressively press forward with this project, despite the Governor’s commitment to combatting climate change.” said Kym Hunter, Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “The toll highway will result in devastating impacts to the natural and human environment and we are disappointed to see what amounts to a rubber stamp approval of a project that deserves much greater scrutiny.”

This petition is the conservation groups’ latest action to halt construction on this expensive, outdated, and environmentally destructive highway project.  The conservation groups have already filed numerous claims in federal court challenging approvals for the project by other state and federal agencies.

 “We are disappointed in the Cooper administration for approving a project with such enormous consequences for wetlands and water quality in Southern Wake County,” said Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr.  “The Division of Water Resources is abandoning its duty to protect water resources with this approval of what would be one of the state’s most destructive highway projects.”

This highway would irreversibly damage some of the last remaining Wake County streams that support unique, sensitive aquatic wildlife like the Neuse River waterdog and several rare and endangered mussels,” said Perrin de Jong, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “This highway project must be stopped.”

The conservation groups have repeatedly urged North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and the state Secretary of Transportation, Jim Trogdon, to reconsider construction of the toll highway and pursue other lower-cost, less-damaging, and equitable transportation options.  The groups have put forth an innovative alternative solution, ACCESS2040, which would rely on upgrading existing roads and innovative transportation improvements to reduce congestion throughout the Complete 540 project area at a much lower cost and with far fewer environmental impacts. 

“Especially after the governor’s executive order on climate change, we are disheartened to see the Division approve a highway of this magnitude which will significantly exacerbate climate emissions,” said June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina.  “This highway would only further impair air the state’s quality, while providing little benefit to the public.”



About the Southern Environmental Law Center

For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.


About Sound Rivers

The mission of Sound Rivers is to monitor and protect the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River watersheds covering nearly one quarter of North Carolina, and to preserve the health and beauty of the river basin through environmental justice.


About the Center for Biological Diversity

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


About Clean Air Carolina

Clean Air Carolina is a statewide nonprofit organization whose mission is to ensure cleaner air quality for all North Carolinians through education and advocacy and by working with our partners to reduce sources of pollution.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Kym Meyer

Litigation Director