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Garden Parkway toll project suffers another setback

The fight over the Garden Parkway has raged for years. In this 2006 photo, Gail Grimes  with the North Carolina Turnpike Authority answers questions about the interchanges of the proposed parkway with Mark Lowe, who lives on Lewis Road in Gaston County. His property could be affected if the parkway is ever built.
The fight over the Garden Parkway has raged for years. In this 2006 photo, Gail Grimes with the North Carolina Turnpike Authority answers questions about the interchanges of the proposed parkway with Mark Lowe, who lives on Lewis Road in Gaston County. His property could be affected if the parkway is ever built. Charlotte Observer

A federal judge has sided with environmentalists who sued the N.C. Department of Transportation over the Garden Parkway, dealing the controversial toll project another setback.

The parkway was already on life support before Friday’s ruling. It did not score high enough in Gov. Pat McCrory’s new ranking system to be included on a 10-year transportation plan, but supporters of the toll road – including the Gaston Chamber of Commerce – are still lobbying for its construction.

Chief U.S. District Judge James Dever’s ruling removes the federal Record of Decision that would allow the parkway to be built. The price for construction has been as estimated as high as $843 million.

Unless the Transportation Department successfully appeals the decision, the state would have to redo the federally required environmental impact studies for the 21.9-mile highway that would sweep through south Gaston County.

The highway would extend from Interstate 85 west of Gastonia to Interstate 485 near Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Dever’s decision was similar to a 2012 decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the state incorrectly did an environmental impact study for the Monroe Connector/Bypass.

The state has resubmitted its impact study and is in a second round of litigation with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The law center also filed suit in the Garden Parkway case, on behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and Clean Air Carolina.

The Transportation Department didn’t say Monday whether it plans to appeal the decision, as it did in the Monroe Connector/Bypass case.

“N.C. DOT is aware of the judge’s ruling, and our legal team is currently reviewing the details of the decision,” the state said. “Until that thorough review is complete, NCDOT will not be able to provide additional comment on this matter.”

Law center attorney Kym Hunter said her group had offered DOT a deal in which the state could rescind the Record of Decision in exchange for dropping the lawsuit.

“They could have stopped wasting money,” Hunter said.

In the Monroe Bypass decision, the law center successfully argued that DOT incorrectly did a part of its study called a “Build vs. No Build” scenario. That looks to the future to envision how the area would develop if the highway were built compared with how it would develop if it weren’t built.

In doing its No Build scenario, the law center said the state used data showing that the highway had already been built. That essentially made part of the environmental study a “Build vs. Build” study, the law center said.

The Garden Parkway case was contested over a similar issue – whether the state used “Build” data in its “No Build” study.

“Defendants made an unsupported assumption that growth in the Metrolina region would remain constant regardless of whether the Garden Parkway was built,” Dever wrote. “In so doing, they failed to take a ‘hard look’ at the environmental impacts of the proposed Garden Parkway. …”

The law center also questioned the state’s position on the economic impact of the parkway.

In the environmental document, the state said the parkway’s construction would result in 3,700 new households and a loss of 300 jobs in the county. (Many jobs would shift to York County, S.C., the study found).

Meanwhile, the Gaston Chamber of Commerce published a report saying the parkway would create more than 11,000 new households and nearly 18,000 jobs.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

we offred them to rescind the ROD and the law..

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