- Current Issues
- About Us
- About the River
- Image Galleries
Monroe Litigation: Latest Update
On April 26, 2013 the US Army Corps of Engineers revoked NCDOT's permit for the Monroe Bypass. The permit is required under section 404 of the Clean Water Act and the Bypass cannot be constructed without it. The Yadkin Riverkeeper along with Clean Air Carolina and the NC Wildlife Federation have been urging the Corps to revoke the permit since the ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit last May which invalidated the environmental study performed by NCDOT.
On February 5, 2013 the groups issued a Notice of Intent to sue under the Clean Water Act to the Corps. In response to that letter, the Corp finally agreed to revoke the permit, almost a year after the Fourth Circuit's ruling. Other agencies including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have also withdrawn their approvals for the project. NCDOT will need to re-apply for all these approvals, and complete its environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act before taking any further steps
In the meantime the Yadkin Riverkeeper will continue to work with local community groups in Union County to urge NCDOT to consider alternative solutions to the Bypass such as upgrades to US 74, 218 and Old Monroe road.
- The Monroe Bypass would be a $740 million, 20-mile highway through the large exurban-rural area of North Carolina, east of Charlotte. The project would have nine interchanges, and has been heavily promoted by real estate speculators.
- The Bypass would destroy at least 499 acres of active agricultural lands. 95 homes, including a number of Century Farms, and 47 businesses will have to be relocated, with 7 neighborhoods being disturbed. Three churches are also directly impacted.
- Only about 40 percent of the cost of the project would be paid by tolls. The rest would come from taxpayers in the form of an appropriation from the State of $24 million every year for the next 30 years.
- There are lower cost alternatives to solving traffic in the region that would spare the many homes and family farms in the way of the bypass project. An NCDOT study found that the vast majority of the congestion in the U.S. 74 corridor could be addressed for $15 million, a fraction of the cost of the Monroe Bypass.
Purpose and Need of the Bypass
- The stated purpose of the Bypass is NOT to improve congestion on existing US 74.
- Rather, the stated purpose is to improve high speed travel between I-485 and the Town of Marshville.
- NCDOT predicts that construction of the Bypass will NOT greatly alleviate congestion on US 74.
- Recent statements indicate that the Turnpike Authority would not be in favor of improvements to US 74 that would have a “competing interest with the Bypass.”
- Constructing the Bypass will remove the “Strategic Highway Corridor” designation from US 74- meaning that US 74 will no longer be a priority for state improvements.
- The Turnpike Authority has never looked at how much traffic in the US 74 is local traffic, versus through traffic. Thus the Authority does not have a good sense of who will actually use the Bypass.
- The Authority has indicated that truck drivers are mixed about whether they will use it or not and significant truck traffic will stay on US 74.
- Statewide planning documents indicate that a key purpose of the Monroe Bypass is a proposed 5,000 acre business park called Legacy Park that is planned to be constructed near Marshville.
The Court’s Decision
- The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the North Carolina Turnpike Authority misled the public and other agencies in their environmental analysis of the proposed toll highway.
- State and federal permitting agencies and environmental groups repeatedly questioned the Turnpike Authority about fundamental flaws in the analysis throughout the administrative process.
- The agencies continually denied the flaws, which they knew to be present in their analysis, and even published a denial in the official federal Record of Decision.
- The appeals court recognized that the “critically important” flaw of including the project in the base case “no build” scenario masked the environmental and human impacts of the project and thus prevented a fair comparison of less expensive, community-friendly alternatives.
SELC filed suit in November, 2010 to put the brakes on the bypass - one of the biggest highway expansion proposals North Carolina history- and May 2012 the Appeals Court ruled that federal and state agencies illegally approved the controversial project.
NCDOT botched environmental study for bypass
SELC has been opposing this project for years due to the unacceptable impact on water quality and wildlife habitat in the Yadkin River watershed. Further, the Monroe Bypass would lure sprawl development of subdivisions and strip malls, which would increase traffic in the corridor, and add to tailpipe pollution in greater Charlotte, which already fails to meet federal air quality standards for protecting public health.
SELC's lawsuit identifies numerous flaws in the state's assessment of environmental impacts from the bypass:
- The agency's analysis for the "no build" option assumes the highway already exists, nonsensically concluding that the project would have virtually no impact on subsequent development.
- The study vastly overstates the traffic levels that would result along US 74 if the toll road were not built.
- NCDOT failed completely to analyze alternatives to solving traffic in the US 74 corridor, again, in violation of federal law.
Better solutions for solving US 74 traffic
The good news is that there are less destructive, less costly ways to undo traffic congestion in the US 74 corridor. Upgrades to local road networks and improvements to the existing US 74 would meet traffic needs and enhance efficiency in the corridor. According to NCDOT's own report in 2007 (click here for a pdf ), improving existing roads and connections would fix all but one of the traffic bottlenecks, at an approximate cost of just $13.3 million. Incredibly, the agency ignored its own findings in the final environmental study, leaving tens of thousands of US 74 users stuck in traffic even after the tollway is built.
The Monroe project is one of a half dozen proposals in the state's transportation planning pipeline that continue the outdated vision of building a massive system of expensive, sprawling beltways and bypasses throughout North Carolina. Getting the study right, rather than rubber-stamping the Turnpike Authority's narrow perspective on available alternatives and their impacts, is critical to the state's transportation future.
For over seven years The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has been involved in permitting and related issues surrounding the construction of the Monroe Connector/Bypass near Charlotte. On November 4, 2010, the SELC in conjunction with Yadkin Riverkeeper, NC Wildlife Federation, NC Sierra Club, and Clean Air Carolina, has filed suit over the proposed Monroe Bypass. The suit challenges that the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) failed to adequately evaluate impacts and alternatives for the Charlotte-area project.
The proposed 22-mile-long expressway would parallel the U.S. 74 corridor Southeast of Charlotte, providing a bypass for the Monroe area connecting to the recently constructed I-485 beltway around Charlotte. Concerns about the project include the overall sprawl-inducing effects, impacts to impaired and sensitive watersheds including streams that are home to an endangered mussel species, and the promotion of additional vehicle travel by encouraging lengthy commutes in an ozone nonattainment area.
The EIS for the Monroe project was completed last summer and SELC submitted extensive comments on its direct and indirect impacts, as well as the need to look at an alternative that would address congestion on the existing highway corridor by improving traffic flow and connectivity on the existing local road network, among other strategies.
Items overlooked in the initial EIS included; an error that prevented a valid comparison of the environmental effects of the build versus no build alternatives, which prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to drop its longstanding concerns about impacts to endangered mussels in the Goose Creek watershed; an overstatement of the traffic congestion on US Highway 74 if the project did not go through; and a distortion in the socio-economic forecasts that indicated a need for the road. SELC raised these issues on the final EIS but the Record of Decision did not directly address them.
While the location of the Monroe Connector/Bypass is not a pristine setting, it is the front burner example in North Carolina of a major sprawl-inducing highway project in one of our larger metro areas that will have an impact on water quality, air quality as well as quality of life in the Yadkin River basin. Air quality, water quality and land development impacts are the three major areas of environmental concern. These concerns are magnified for toll road proposals because they are dependent on a revenue stream that is premised on rapid, sprawling growth patterns and the attendant increased motor vehicle travel. In addition, the flaws in the EIS have and will continue to infect other environmental reviews for the project, including under the Endangered Species Act and Sections 404 and 401 of the Clean Water Act.
Sign up for email alerts and newsletters from Yadkin Riverkeeper.
Make a donation today to support Yadkin Riverkeeper programming, current issues and events.
Commit to an annual donation of just $25 or more and become a member of Yadkin Riverkeeper.