Public Interest Groups Ask Judge to Put an Immediate Halt to Billion-Dollar Bypass

For Immediate Release

Environmental Groups
Contact: 

Chandra Taylor, SELC Senior Attorney, (w) (919) 967-1450; (c) (434)
872-3190.
Tim Gestwicki, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, (704) 332-5696.
June Blotnick, Clean Air Carolina, (704) 307-9528.
Dean Naujocks, Yadkin Riverkeeper, (336) 722-4949.

Public Interest Groups Ask Judge to Put an Immediate Halt to Billion-Dollar Bypass

Environmental study process for Monroe Bypass riddled with flaws, distortions and illegalities

CHARLOTTE, NC - Environmental groups filed a motion for a preliminary injunction (pdf)
in federal court late yesterday seeking an immediate halt to any
further action by the N.C. Department of Transportation on the proposed
Monroe Bypass near Charlotte, including the issuance of bonds.

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Clean Air Carolina and Yadkin
Riverkeeper, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, say
that NCDOT, in its rush to get the Charlotte-area toll road approved and
built, violated federal law, ignored lower cost solutions to fixing
U.S. 74 traffic, and misled the public about the true impacts of the
bypass on air and water quality.

"The congestion mess on U.S. 74 clearly needs to be addressed, but
NCDOT's badly flawed analysis of the proposed bypass is a disservice to
those seeking a cost-effective, environmentally sound solution for our
community," said Chandra Taylor, SELC Senior Attorney.  "With
construction slated to start in January, we are left with no choice but
to ask a judge to halt all activity on this project until a full hearing
on the study's gross inaccuracies occurs."

The highway's nearly $1 billion price tag, less than half of which
would come from tolls and the rest of which will be paid with taxpayer
dollars, would saddle the state with decades of debt. Not only is this
an ill-advised project for the Charlotte region, it would siphon money
away from other services and programs at a time when North Carolina
faces an estimated $3.5 billion budget deficit for the coming year.

The groups filed suit against NCDOT and the Federal Highway
Administration on November 2; yesterday's filing seeks an immediate
injunction on all work while the lawsuit is pending. Among other claims,
they say the agency illegally biased the outcome of its environmental
study by assuming the highway already existed when it assessed the
impacts of a "no build" option. After the groups pointed this blunder
out in comments last year, the agency denied it. However, internal
documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show the
agency did, in fact, make this critical error.

The groups also say NCDOT failed to fully evaluate alternatives for
building the 20-mile highway to ease congestion along U.S. 74 in Union
and Mecklenburg counties, including its own 2007 study showing that
upgrades and improvements in the U.S. 74 corridor would address the
problem at a tiny fraction of the cost.  Further, the agency denied that
the highway would lead to sprawl development-despite the fact it
includes nine access points, averaging one every 2.5 miles-and so failed
to assess how growth would impact regional air and water quality.

"The Charlotte region is taking a lot of positive steps to enhance
our transportation system while preserving natural resources and quality
of life. The Monroe Bypass is not one of them," Taylor said.

"This road would take a toll on wetlands and wildlife, not to mention
the integrity of the processes that guide wise decision-making on
critical transportation issues. It's not just natural resources that
would be squandered," said Tim Gestwicki, executive director of the
North Carolina Wildlife Federation.

"Given the air quality problems in our region and a more stringent
ozone standard due to be announced next month, we must consider the
environmental impacts of major transportation projects very carefully,"
said June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina. "If more
cost-effective, sustainable alternatives exist, they should be given
priority."

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