The Corps of Engineers has given environmental approval to the controversial Monroe Connector-Bypass project, the North Carolina Turnpike Authority said today. But a lawsuit continues to hold up construction on the 19.7-mile, roughly $800 million toll road, which would be the second in the state.
Now that the so-called 404 permit, which the corps has to grant if a road project crosses water or wetlands, has been awarded, the next step is to sell toll-revenue bonds that will finance the project.
The NCTA, though, is waiting for a judge to rule on the lawsuit before selling the bonds or moving ahead with construction.
“It is a shame that this project, which is the No. 1 transportation priority for Mecklenburg and Union county, is delayed because of a lawsuit without merit,” David Joyner, NCTA executive director, said. ”We our confident in the integrity of our studies and we look forward to our day in court.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit Nov. 2 on behalf of Clean Air Carolina, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and the Yadkin Riverkeeper.
The groups have raised concerns about the environmental impacts of the project and whether proper studies were conducted on environmental impacts. In February, the SELC challenged a permit issued by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, saying DENR did not comply with the federal Clean Water Act.
The act requires DENR to evaluate the full scope of the project to ensure that stream and wetland impacts are avoided or minimized and that stormwater is controlled to prevent offsite water pollution, the SELC said. But because the project had not been designed and the water-quality impacts had been assessed for only one-sixth of the route at the time DENR issued the permit, there was no way to comply with the Clean Water Act, the SELC said.
U.S. District Court Judge James Dever III denied SELC’s request for an injunction. Dever is expected to rule on the merits of the case this summer.
The project includes 20 miles of toll road from Highway 74 and Interstate 485 in eastern Mecklenburg County to the town of Marshville in Union County.
Some residents with health problems have raised concerns that project construction will make them sicker. There have also been concerns about the federally-protected Carolina heelsplitter mussel.
The NCTA, though, says it has designed the project to minimize impacts to the mussel and wetlands. It says it has proposed to build bridges, instead of culverts and other drainage structures.
The project is set to open to traffic in December 2014.