Politics & Government

Court ruling should allow Monroe Expressway construction to proceed

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the N.C. Department of Transportation’s second environmental impact analysis for the Monroe Expressway was done correctly. The decision allows construction on the 20-mile highway to move forward.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the N.C. Department of Transportation’s second environmental impact analysis for the Monroe Expressway was done correctly. The decision allows construction on the 20-mile highway to move forward.

The N.C. Department of Transportation won a victory Thursday when a federal appellate court said the state’s second environmental impact analysis for the Monroe Expressway was done correctly.

The court’s decision should allow the DOT to continue building the 20-mile toll road, which will begin at Interstate 485 and end in Marshville. It’s likely to open in 2019.

The Southern Environment Law Center in Chapel Hill, representing Clean Air Carolina and two other environmental groups, won a major decision in the case in 2012. They said the highway’s environmental impact analysis was flawed because the state didn’t forecast correctly what would happen in the future if the expressway wasn’t built.

In its initial impact analysis, the DOT was supposed to conduct a “Build vs. No Build” study. But in parts of the “No Build” analysis, the DOT used data showing the highway had already been built.

The law center said the expressway would lead to more sprawl and growth than the DOT was projecting.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the law center that the analysis was flawed.

The DOT re-did its analysis, and submitted a new environmental document in late 2013.

The state won approval for the highway, but the SELC sued again, saying the environmental document was still wrong.

Last year, however, U.S. District Judge James Dever ruled in favor of the DOT, a decision that allowed construction on the highway to begin. The Fourth Circuit backed his decision this week.

In its ruling, the Fourth Circuit agreed with the lower court’s opinion that the DOT “adequately created and compared No Build and Build scenarios” and fixed their previous mistakes.

The SELC said it hasn’t made a decision about whether to appeal.

“We are disappointed in the Court’s decision and are discussing options with our clients,” said law center attorney Kym Hunter. “We remain convinced that there are less destructive, less expensive ways to improve transportation in Union County. Recent projections by NCDOT show the road will generate over $1 billion less toll revenue than was previously expected. The Court’s opinion is a loss for North Carolina taxpayers and a loss for the environment.”

A consultant hired by the DOT recently projected the highway would produce less toll revenue than initially projected.

A DOT-commissioned study this year projected the expressway would generate about $2 billion in tolls over 40 years – down from a 2010 study that forecast $3.15 billion.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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