N.C. DOT says Monroe Bypass construction has started

The N.C. Department of Transportation said Thursday it has started construction on the Monroe Bypass/Connector, a new toll road that’s designed to let motorists avoid stop-and-go traffic on U.S. 74 in Union County.

But there is still pending litigation over the highway, and it’s possible the $840 million project could be stopped for the second time. The Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill has appealed the federal government’s approval for the highway and filed a request May 14 for a temporary restraining order to stop construction.

Three years ago, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the SELC, which claimed the state had erroneously conducted an environmental impact study for the 20-mile highway.

The DOT then did a second impact study. The SELC contends that study is still flawed.

“We are extremely disappointed that NCDOT has failed to learn from history and is once again prematurely moving ahead to disrupt lives and waste taxpayer money before its environmental review has been determined legal,” said Kym Hunter, an attorney with the law center.

The state said its crews are installing silt fencing, survey markers, right-of-way fencing and performing limited clearing that’s necessary for construction within the right-of-way.

The work is starting at the eastern end of the project and moving to the west, towards Interstate 485.

The DOT said in a statement Thursday that the state will be able to proceed with construction.

“N.C. DOT is confident that the environmental studies are sound and comply with all applicable laws,” said spokesperson Jordan Ashley-Baker. “While the environmental groups filed a lawsuit and later a motion for an injunction, no injunction has been issued.”

Harrison: 704-358-5160