Federal Agency Withdraws Approval for Monroe Bypass Project
The Federal Highway Administration yesterday withdrew its formal approval for the Monroe Bypass project, marking another major setback for the $700 million toll highway project. The decision comes after conservation groups successfully challenged the project in federal court, winning a landmark ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. If it still wants to pursue the project, the North Carolina Department of Transportation will have to redo its study of the impacts of the road to water and air quality and look carefully at a range of less expensive alternative solutions.
Three environmental groups, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, the Yadkin Riverkeeper and Clean Air Carolina, brought the challenge to the Bypass in 2010. In their lawsuit, the groups contended that NCDOT had essentially compared “building the road” with “building the road,” to justify the project and downplay its impacts, and then hid that fact from the public and various agencies in a bid to get permits. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, labeling the Department’s analysis of the bypass a “fundamental blunder” and chastising the agency for its misrepresentations.
“We are pleased to see the Federal Highway Administration take this important step.” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks, “In its dogged pursuit of this bypass the NCDOT misled both the public and sister agencies. We see this as a positive sign that FHWA will ensure that any future study will be accorded the transparency and honesty that should have been there at the start.”
Yesterday’s withdrawal of the approval document, known as the “Record of Decision” reopens the environmental review process for the Bypass. The step will allow concerned citizens and public agencies to take a new look at the twenty mile long project with 9 interchanges in a sparsely populated area southeast of Charlotte. Among alternative options that the conservation groups want the agency to consider is an upgrade to existing US 74. Earlier studies by NCDOT have shown that significant improvements could be made to the corridor for a mere $15 million, a fraction of the costly $700 million bypass.
“This latest move by FHWA marks an important milestone in the history of this misguided project” said Senior Attorney David Farren. “The step allows North Carolina, with input from citizens, agencies and even the legislature, to reflect on whether this is most effective use of our scarce transportation resources.”