Complete 540 Project Moves Forward with Settlement Agreement
RALEIGH – The N.C. Department of Transportation and Sound Rivers, Inc., Center for Biological Diversity, and Clean Air Carolina, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, have signed a settlement agreement. This will allow the N.C. Turnpike Authority to proceed with the Triangle Expressway Southeast Extension (also known as Complete 540) project while simultaneously setting in place protections for clean air, clean water and endangered aquatic species.
Under the agreement, Sound Rivers, Inc., Center for Biological Diversity and Clean Air Carolina will dismiss claims that were filed in federal court in 2018, and the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings in 2019 related to the environmental process and impacts of the construction of N.C. 540.
“This agreement is a win for North Carolina,” said Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon. “Being able to settle these lawsuits moves this critical project forward and saves taxpayers millions of dollars. In addition, the components of this agreement offer strong environmental protections along the project corridor, which will benefit this community for generations to come. Instead of fighting in court, we negotiated a settlement that saves time and money while it protects and preserves some of this region’s most beautiful natural areas.”
“This unprecedented agreement will be a game-changer for many of the most important environmental issues in our state,” said Kym Hunter, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the conservation groups. “This agreement sets in place critical protections for the Neuse River watershed, preserves beautiful open space in Wake County, provides a lifeline for some of the state’s rarest and most endangered aquatic species, and creates important new mechanisms for combatting climate change.”
The agreement, which will be implemented during the next several years, includes improvements addressing:
• Climate change and air quality. The NCDOT will take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from construction equipment, conduct greenhouse gas analyses as part of major project studies in North Carolina, and focus on strategies and tools to reduce vehicle miles traveled and vehicular emissions across the state.
• Water quality. The department will help mitigate the impacts of the project by providing enhancements to the water quality of the critical streams and rivers in the project area by implementing additional protections, providing significantly more stream mitigation and restoration, conducting research, and developing new stormwater design guidelines. The department will support Johnston County to improve and enhance the quality of the county’s stormwater management program.
• Support of Wake County’s Open Space Program, setting aside funds to assist in the county’s goals to preserve open space for the benefit of the community.
• Species preservation. Significant environmental benefits will be provided to protect streams, restore wildlife habitat, and provide a lifeline for some of North Carolina’s rarest and most endangered aquatic species.
The settlement agreement saves taxpayers from high costs associated with ongoing litigation and project delays. In a similar case, for instance, a four-year delay for the Monroe Expressway added more than $78 million in project costs.
Complete 540 extends the existing Triangle Expressway (N.C. 540) from the N.C. 55 Bypass in Apex to U.S. 64/U.S. 264 (I-87) in Knightdale, completing the 540 Outer Loop around the greater Raleigh area. Construction is scheduled to start as early as late 2019. The project’s first phase, which extends from N.C. 55 Bypass to I-40, is anticipated to open in 2023.
“The acceleration of 540 to I-40 has been the top priority of the regional business community for several years,” said Joe Milazzo II, executive director of the Regional Transportation Alliance. “This new freeway will provide an essential link between metropolitan and rural North Carolina for jobs and opportunity. This agreement is fantastic news and we applaud each of the parties for coming together to advance this vital connector for Wake, Johnston, Chatham and nearby counties, while ensuring environmental protection for our region and state.”
“We are delighted the parties could reach this important settlement for Wake County and North Carolina,” said Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson. “Protecting green spaces now is critical as Wake County continues to grow, and because of this agreement, our county will be able to preserve dramatically more open spaces over the coming years than we had previously hoped. We are also thrilled to see the commitment to public transit in the agreement. As the Complete 540 project moves forward, Wake County will work diligently to ensure growth is sustainable, and that communities of all kinds are delivered the freedom good transportation options provide.”
The project is known as a “critical connector” for the region and has been a top priority for the local communities, metropolitan planning organization and the regional business community.
The Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service were also parties to the federal lawsuit. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources was also a party to the state lawsuit. The settlement agreement will result in the dismissal of claims against all parties to the lawsuits.