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DOT receives favorable ruling on Monroe bypass, but Gaston toll road dealt setback

This stretch of U.S. 74 that runs into Union County from the Interstate 485 interchange will dramatically change as the Monroe Connector/Bypass is built. A federal judge has ruled in favor of the N.C. Department of Transportation in a lawsuit involving the bypass.
This stretch of U.S. 74 that runs into Union County from the Interstate 485 interchange will dramatically change as the Monroe Connector/Bypass is built. A federal judge has ruled in favor of the N.C. Department of Transportation in a lawsuit involving the bypass. Observer file photo

A federal judge has ruled in favor of the N.C. Department of Transportation in a lawsuit involving the Monroe Connector/Bypass, a planned $900 million, 20-mile toll road through Union County.

The ruling went against the wishes of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which sued to stop the highway on behalf of Clean Air Carolina and the Catawba Riverkeeper. The N.C. DOT said Friday the state can continue building the highway, and that the “case is now closed.”

The toll road could open in late 2018.

It would provide relief for congestion along U.S. 74, which is used by commuters and truckers alike, and is one of the few roads in North Carolina that stretches from the mountains to the coast.

An attorney with the SELC, Kym Hunter, said the law center is consulting with its clients to determine whether to appeal.

In 2012, the same judge, James Dever III, ruled against the law center in favor of the DOT in the Monroe bypass case. But the law center appealed that decision, and the SELC won at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia. That forced the DOT to conduct a new environmental impact study for the toll road.

In another toll road case, the DOT was also dealt a setback by Dever.

In a separate case, Dever sided with the law center in re-affirming that DOT violated federal environmental policy when planning for the $930 million, 22-mile Garden Parkway in Gaston County.

Dever’s ruling continues to put the Garden Parkway in limbo, with the state unable to move forward. However, state transportation officials had become less enthusiastic about the Gaston County project, even before Dever’s latest ruling.

The parkway has scored poorly on a new ranking system championed by Gov. Pat McCrory, making it difficult for the parkway to receive funding.

In a statement, Hunter said the judge’s ruling on the Garden Parkway underscores that the N.C. DOT “violated federal law in their environmental review of the $900 million Garden Parkway. The ruling comes as supporters are attempting to revive the destructive toll highway which has been stripped of its earmarked funding source by the legislature.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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