The process to begin construction on the Monroe Bypass/Connector took another step Jan. 6 with a public hearing to address potential environmental concerns posed by the proposed 19.7-mile toll road.
The hearing was held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the N.C. Division of Water Resources at the request of Southern Environmental Law Center and SELC clients Clean Air Carolina, Yadkin Riverkeeper and North Carolina Wildlife Federation.
The SELC requested the hearing in response to the N.C. Department of Transportation’s applications to the Corps and the Water Resources division for the environmental permits required before construction can begin.
Plans for the $836 million bypass were halted in 2012 after the SELC filed a lawsuit contesting the transportation department’s environmental impact study. After the department issued a new, supplemental study, the Federal Highway Administration announced last spring that it would allow plans for the bypass to proceed.
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More than 100 people attended the public hearing at the Union County Agricultural Center & Conference Center, where they were told comments were restricted to environmental issues related to the proposed bypass. Written comments will be accepted until Feb. 5, said Amy Chapman of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
A decision on the Water Resources division’s permit will be made in mid-March.
Colin Mellor, group leader for environmental coordination and permitting for N.C. DOT, said last week that N.C. DOT would like to begin construction “as soon as possible” after getting the permits.
“Everything hinges at the moment on what the SELC’s next step is,” he said.
At the public hearing, opinions on the project appeared to be divided between residents living in the eastern and western portions of the county. Eastern residents seemed to favor the proposed bypass, which would run north of U.S. 74, from Stallings to just west of Marshville, bypassing Indian Trail and Monroe.
About 20 people spoke, including representatives from environmental groups, and several mayors including: Elizabeth Long of Fairview; Kevin Pressley of Hemby Bridge; Rick Becker of Mineral Springs; and Franklin Deese of Marshville.
Deese was the only mayor who spoke in favor of the bypass.
June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina, said building the bypass would severely hurt the area’s air quality, and the increased traffic on the completed bypass would add to ozone and particle pollution.
“The so-called bypass is proposed to have nine exits, where family farms will be covered with sprawling development, resulting in more construction and traffic pollution as people drive more to reach the commercial developments located near the interchanges,” she said.
Blotnick included estimates of the number of people in Union County whose medical conditions would put them at increased risk from the poor air quality she said the bypass would create.
Other speakers expressed concerns about the bypass’ impact on water runoff and the county’s farmland. Some said the millions of dollars poured into the project would divert resources from other needed road projects, and that there are better alternatives.
Several commenters, including truck-driver Ronnie Moore, said the bypass would decrease pollution because a moving vehicle creates less fumes than one standing still.
Moore lives in Marshville and drives a truck for Sunbelt Rentals in Indian Trail. It takes him 45 minutes to drive the 19 miles – with 19 lights – between his home and work, he said.
He said he has seen a lot of fatalities on U.S. 74, during both his commutes and while on the job. He said the new connector should be called the Jeff Green Bypass, in memory of the Union County deputy killed recently when a truck rolled over onto his cruiser.
If this road had been built, Moore said, Green would still be alive.