Court Unanimously Rejects NCDOT’s Monroe Bypass Appeal
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today swiftly and decisively rejected the petition by North Carolina Department of Transportation (“NCDOT”) to revisit its landmark ruling invalidating the environmental study for the Monroe Bypass. After a panel of Fourth Circuit Judges ruled in May that the environmental study for the proposed toll road was fundamentally flawed, the Department petitioned the full Court to reconsider the case. The Federal Highway Administration declined to join NCDOT in the request for rehearing.
“The petition didn't even make it to first base,” said David Farren, Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center which brought the case on behalf of three conservation groups. The fifteen member court, comprised of Judges appointed by Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama, unanimously ruled that the case didn't warrant further consideration, with not even a single Judge requesting further review.
The decision seals the victory for three groups, Clean Air Carolina, North Carolina Wildlife Federation and the Yadkin Riverkeeper who filed suit to challenge the proposed toll highway in 2010. In their lawsuit, the groups contended that NCDOT had essentially compared “building the road” with “building the road,” and then misrepresented that fact to the public and various agencies in a bid to get permits for the project. The Fourth Circuit agreed, chastising the NCDOT for providing the public and other agencies with “erroneous information” and labeling the Department's actions a “fundamental blunder.”
Today's decision denying NCDOT's petition, confirms the court's earlier ruling and underscores the need for NCDOT to revisit its analysis for the proposed toll road. The agency will now need to restart its analysis of environmental impacts and alternatives, and eventually reapply for state and federal permits. The groups have long contended that NCDOT failed to look at more cost-effective and environmentally sound ways to address traffic congestion on U.S. 74 that could be achieved for a tiny fraction of the cost of the proposed toll highway.
Meanwhile, NCDOT continues to sit on the on $600 million in bonds for the costly project that it rushed to secure while the litigation was pending. With this and the other toll projects in limbo, including the Garden Parkway and Mid-Currituck bridge, which were not funded in this year's budget, North Carolina taxpayers are paying interest and using up precious funds that could be put to many other good uses in these tight budget times.
“North Carolina Wildlife Federation hails this decision, ” said Tim Gestwicki, executive director of NC Wildlife Federation. “This is a win for taxpayers, natural resources, and the American process.”