Transportation Expert Says DOT’s Analysis Insufficient to Support Building $900 Million Monroe Bypass
The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s recent analysis of the Monroe Bypass is so flawed that it cannot justify the decision to build the $900 million highway according to a report released today by transportation planner David T. Hartgen, Ph.D, P.E.
Dr. Hartgen, who has 45 years of transportation planning experience, explains that NCDOT’s latest planning document “simply ignores the last 12 years of history,” relying on outdated assumptions and flawed methodologies including pre-recession data and methodologies that fail to acknowledge recent improvements to U.S. 74.
Dr. Hartgen analyzed the study at the request of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which also submitted comments on the analysis to NCDOT yesterday on behalf of its clients Clean Air Carolina, the Yadkin Riverkeeper and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation.
“We and our clients have long advocated for small scale, cost-effective transportation improvements as a better alternative to the bypass,” said Kym Hunter, the attorney at the nonprofit Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the groups. “Investments in small scale improvements provide more benefit to local drivers at a lower cost to the environment and taxpayers than the $900 million bypass.”
The study by Dr. Hartgen confirms that low-cost improvements already have had dramatic impacts in the corridor. Over the past five years, NCDOT has begun to implement some low cost solutions such as optimized traffic signal timing and turn lane additions along U.S. 74.
As a result of these improvements, traffic speeds along U.S. 74 increased by 15- 20mph, making trips through the corridor significantly faster. Despite this accomplishment, NCDOT has refused to consider expanding low-cost solutions in place of the bypass. Hartgen notes that “given the admitted success” of the recent improvements such a dismissal by the state agency is “premature.”
In fact, local leaders in Union County are calling for alternative solutions. Four local municipalities–Hemby Bridge, Weddington, Mineral Springs and Marvin–recently passed resolutions asking NCDOT to consider alternatives to the $900 million Monroe Bypass and many other local voices are speaking out to request that the state take a fresh look and determine if the project really gives taxpayers a good return on investment.
While the cost of the bypass has escalated, the projected benefits from the project have diminished significantly. In 2007, when NCDOT first studied the bypass, drivers were expected to save 29-30 minutes if they drove it from end to end. Today’s figures estimate that those time savings would be just 8-12 minutes. That’s $100 million per minute of travel time saved when transportation public funding is at an all-time low.
NCDOT has paid a construction group, including Boggs Paving—indicted on federal fraud charges–$37 million of taxpayer funds under a contract it signed just before a federal court ruled that NCDOT misled the public about its proposed $900 million Monroe Bypass. These payments included monthly paychecks for the contractors to “do nothing” and at one time even involved payments for the indicted contractor to set up a fake “grassroots” support group for the bypass.