South Charlotte

Bypass delays concern business leaders

It's an all-too familiar refrain for people and businesses in Union County - there's another delay in store for the Monroe Connector-Bypass.

The latest hitch in the plans for the $950-million toll road came last week after the state learned it received the final permit needed to start the remaining financing and construction for the road meant to ease congestion on U.S. 74.

But several environmental groups have filed suit to stop the road, and a federal judge's ruling on the claims could come in late summer or fall. The N.C. Turnpike Authority said it will not move forward with financing, construction or any other work until the judge makes his decision.

"That's going to delay progress," Union County Chamber of Commerce President Sharon Rosché said. "It will delay Union County from doing the things it needs to do to attract different types of businesses and corporations to enhance our economic tax base."

She cited a chamber report released last week that highlighted concerns over a county tax base that is 85 percent residential and 15 percent business. The connector-bypass would be a significant boost to both existing businesses and those thinking of coming to the county, Rosché said.

"We'd like to expedite it as quickly as possible," she added.

The road is projected to cut travel time by 17 minutes for drivers avoiding 26 traffic lights along U.S. 74, a heavy commuter route for people in Mecklenburg and Union counties and one of the few roads in North Carolina that runs from the beach to the mountains.

The bypass would start along U.S. 74 near Interstate 485 and the Mecklenburg County line, go briefly east and then roughly parallel U.S. 74 until it reconnects with that highway just west of Marshville.

The bypass is a critical ingredient for a planned 5,000-acre business park in Marshville, Legacy Business Park. In fact, the park in its current form would not work without the bypass, said Maurice Ewing, head of Union County Partnership for Progress, the county's economic development arm.

"This highway is absolutely critical to the economic well-being of Union County," Ewing said. "It's just sad that this delay can continue and taxpayers suffer" with higher costs to build the road.