Southern Environmental Law Center Urges Honest Review of Costly Monroe Bypass
In an attempt to ensure compliance with laws that protect the public interest, the Southern Environmental Law Center today sent a letter to the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration urging them to perform an honest, transparent analysis of the $850 million Monroe Bypass before wasting any more taxpayer money on the destructive and unnecessary project.
The letter was sent on behalf of Southern Environmental Law Center’s clients: Clean Air Carolina, the Yadkin Riverkeeper and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation who successfully challenged the bypass in 2012. In that earlier case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled unanimously that NCDOT had withheld key data and misled the public in its initial review of the bypass. The groups contend that NCDOT has utterly ignored the court’s warning and instead continues to actively mislead the public about the bypass.
Included with the letter was a new report from Professor David Hartgen, a transportation expert with over 45 years of transportation planning experience. Professor Hartgen continues to assert that NCDOT’s analysis is “too uncertain and insufficiently supported to be the basis of decision-making” for the massively expensive project.
In his new report, Professor Hartgen notes that NCDOT’s analysis flies in the face of all recent data and trends which show that far from getting more congested, U.S. 74 has actually been improving. Indeed, the latest data suggests that a suite of low-cost alternatives focused on the existing highways could make a real impact. Rather than look at this up-to-date information, NCDOT has had to go back to the 1980s to find a trend that would justify construction of the costly project — a technique that Professor Hartgen says “stretches credibility.”
SELC and their clients have long advocated for alternative low-cost solutions to the bypass project. Unlike the proposed toll-highway, which is designed primarily for those rich enough to pay a fee to completely skip-over Union County, these alternative solutions would focus on making U.S. 74 itself better: reducing congestion for local residents, boosting local jobs and making the roads safer.
Kym Hunter, an attorney with SELC urges NCDOT to consider the local communities who will be hurt by the bypass. “Five communities in Union County are now on record opposing the toll highway,” noted Hunter.
“All communities need honest information and full disclosure of the harmful impacts of the $850 million Monroe Bypass before NCDOT wastes more taxpayer money pushing it forward,” she continued
To gain support for a road that will have devastating impacts on local communities, politicians and bureaucrats at NCDOT resorted to creating a false impression that the road will bring economic development and relief to current congestion. In private and in legal documents these same players admit the reverse is true: the bypass is designed to avoid Union County, not improve it and almost no economic development is expected to result.
SELC and their clients hope that NCDOT and FHWA will carefully consider their concerns about the dishonest bypass review, but stand ready to take further legal action if it becomes necessary.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of almost 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.