On the heels of a successful lawsuit that has stopped construction of a Union County toll road, an environmental group said it will file a new federal lawsuit Tuesday to thwart another planned toll project the Garden Parkway in Gaston County.
The Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill alleges that the N.C. Turnpike Authority did a defective environmental impact study for the parkway, a planned 21.9-mile toll road that cuts through southern Gaston County.
The law center alleges that the state gamed its federally required study in order to obtain the necessary state and federal permits.
It had previously filed a lawsuit to stop the Monroe Connector/Bypass, which was supposed to begin construction this year.
The federal government requires major highway projects to do whats known as a build vs. no build study, which projects the impacts of building the highway against not building it.
In the case of the Monroe Connector/Bypass, the law center said that the N.C. Turnpike Authority assumed the toll road had already been built, resulting in a build vs. build study.
That showed little impact from the toll roads construction. The law center said that made it easier to receive required permits.
In May, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled in favor of the law center and criticized the state for failing to do the study properly.
That has forced the state to delay the project indefinitely.
We think (the Garden Parkway study) is worse than Monroe, said Kym Hunter, an attorney with the law center.
The state had been expecting litigation concerning the Garden Parkway, which is one of the most controversial highway projects in the state.
Greer Beaty, a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Transportation, said the environmental studies for the parkway are correct. She said she couldnt comment on the lawsuit until the state has had time to review it.
Supporters of the Garden Parkway say it will provide Gaston County with a much-needed link across the Catawba River, and provide an economic jolt to the county.
Opponents say the nearly $1 billion project wont improve traffic congestion on Interstate 85 and that it will lead to sprawl and environmental damage.
One report showed that the Garden Parkway would actually cost Gaston County 900 jobs if it were built. The reason, according to the state study, is that the toll road would encourage jobs to move into South Carolina.
After that number was publicized, parkway supporters commissioned a study by UNC Charlotte economics professor John Connaughton, who said the project would bring up to 18,000 jobs to Gaston.