Monroe Bypass suffers another legal setback
by STEVE HARRISON / The Charlotte Observer
Posted on June 29, 2012 at 11:00 PM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina’s efforts to build the Monroe Connector/Bypass suffered another setback Friday, when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider an earlier decision that has stopped the highway project for now.
In May, the appellate court ruled in favor of the Southern Environmental Law Center in deciding that the state failed to properly conduct a federally required study about the environmental impact of the proposed 19.7-mile toll road.
The state was supposed to conduct what’s known as a “build versus no-build study,” which examines the impact of building a highway against what would happen if the project was never built. But when doing the build portion of the study, the N.C. Turnpike Authority used data that showed the highway was already in place.
The law center charged that the state essentially did a “build vs. build” study, which showed minimal impact from the toll road.
The state said its engineers made adjustments to the study, which it maintained was correct.
But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the state, chiding transportation officials in its decision last month.
After that decision, the state has declined to say what steps it would take next. It has repeatedly said it believes the appellate court would re-hear the case, and declined to comment on what would happen if it didn’t.
Greer Beaty, a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Transportation, said Friday that the state is working on a “two-pronged approach.”
The first was seeking a re-hearing with the court. The second is for its engineers to “address the concerns of the court.”
“I don’t have a timeline on when that will be,” she said.
The state had planned on starting construction this year.
The 4th Circuit decision doesn’t mean the Monroe Connector/Bypass can’t ever be built. But it means the state must re-do much of its federally required impact studies.
The law center said it believes that could take years, and it’s possible the study may show significant environmental damage. That could prevent the project from securing federal permits for endangered species and clean water.
The Federal Highway Administration had jointly defended the state in the initial lawsuit before the 4th Circuit. But the federal government declined to participate in the request for a rehearing.
David Farren, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said he believed that showed the federal government had lost faith in the N.C. Turnpike Authority.
A spokesperson for Federal Highway Administration said it wouldn’t comment on litigation.