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Feds OK Monroe toll road route

The long-awaited Monroe Connector-Bypass reached a major milestone and has received final federal approval of its route, the N.C. Turnpike Authority announced today.

The move means the authority can proceed with seeking permits for the 19.7-mile toll road, establish a list of properties that will need to be purchased because they are in the projects' way, proceed with plans to sell bonds to finance the work and finalize the process for awarding the massive construction contract.

The road will link Interstate 485 with eastern Union County to help ease congestion on U.S. 74, which is one of the few thoroughfares in north Carolina that run from the coast to the mountains.

“This (approval) lets us move forward,” turnpike authority Chief Engineer Steve DeWitt said. “It’s a pretty big deal.”

The current estimate for the project’s construction cost ranges from $750 million to $825 million, but those figures are expected to change, and final costs should be known shortly before construction starts in December. The road may open in late 2014, although that target could change too.

Three joint ventures are finalists for the contract to design and build the connector-bypass, a deal that could be worth about $525 million, according to the state. The turnpike authority expects to award that deal in late October.

The connector-bypass will have nine exits. It will start along U.S. 74 near I-485 and the Mecklenburg County line. It will follow that path into Stallings, run northeast across Union County and reconnect with U.S. 74 just west of Marshville.