Politics & Government

Stallings votes to oppose Monroe toll road

Stallings this week became the fifth Union County municipality to oppose or question the Monroe Bypass/Connector when the town council unanimously voted to withdraw its support for the toll road and ask the state instead to consider improving U.S. 74.

The controversial toll road still has the support of much of Union County’s business community, and most municipalities are in favor of the highway.

But Stallings’ vote on Monday shows that some in Union County are reconsidering the $800 million highway, which has been tied up in litigation for the past two years.

Stallings Mayor Pro Tem Walt Kline said he is concerned about the project’s cost and doesn’t think it will significantly improve congestion on U.S. 74.

“You start putting those things together – the cost, no traffic relief,” Kline said. “There was never an alternative plan. In other words, if we don’t build this toll road, what else can we do?”

The N.C. Department of Transportation has said the bypass is a critical project for the Charlotte area. It will allow drivers fast access to Charlotte from eastern Union County and beyond, and will spark economic development to slow-growth areas such as Anson County.

The DOT said Tuesday that it hasn’t received a copy of the resolution. Spokeswoman Jen Thompson said the state is committed to the highway, and it’s hoping to get a record of decision from the federal government, an important hurdle for the road to be built, that she said “may happen in a few weeks.”

Hemby Bridge, Weddington, Mineral Springs and Marvin had previously questioned or opposed the bypass in resolutions.

Pat Kahle, president of the Union County Chamber of Commerce, said the highway is critical to the region and that it continues to have a large base of support, including in Indian Trail, Monroe and Marshville.

One benefit, she said, is that the bypass will give the region better access to the port of Wilmington.

She said locals will also benefit.

“For Union County businesses who must ship goods and rely on tractor-trailers, the east-west connector is a must,” Kahle said. “For local businesses located on Highway 74 who rely on local residents to shop with them, the impact of this project is also important to their business.”

The state was preparing to build the bypass when a federal appellate court in 2012 stopped the project. The Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill had sued to stop the highway, saying the DOT’s environmental impact study was flawed.

The DOT has since released a new environmental impact statement. Kym Hunter of the law center said her group hasn’t decided whether to sue again to stop the project.

The law center has been actively lobbying elected officials and residents against the project. It argues that the connector will create sprawl and won’t improve traffic flow on U.S. 74.

The city of Charlotte hasn’t taken a formal position on the bypass. But the city’s voting member on the regional transportation planning organizations has supported it.

“I’m supportive,” said Charlotte City Council member David Howard, who represented the city on the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization, the predecessor to the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, before Vi Lyles replaced him. “We have problems with access, and that includes getting in and out.”