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Fourth Circuit Delays Monroe Bypass Construction

By Robyn Hagan Cain on May 04, 2012 4:09 PM

Construction on the Monroe bypass, Charlotte, North Carolina's first modern toll road, was once again delayed this week.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that the public agencies did not comply with federal environmental assessment requirements when developing a construction plan.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration (collectively, the Agencies) recently approved construction of the Monroe bypass, a new 20-mile toll road in North Carolina linking Mecklenburg and Union Counties. The North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Clean Air Carolina, and Yadkin Riverkeeper (collectively, the Conservation Groups) filed a lawsuit to enjoin construction of the tool road, contending that the process by which the Agencies approved the road violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The Conservation Groups asserted that the Agencies violated NEPA by:

1. Failing to analyze the environmental impacts of the Monroe Connector,

2. Conducting a flawed analysis of alternatives, and

3. Presenting materially false and misleading information to other agencies and to the public

The district court granted summary judgment to the Agencies. The Conservation Groups appealed, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated and remanded the decision, finding that the Agencies violated NEPA because they failed to disclose critical assumptions underlying their decision to build the road and instead provided the public with incorrect information.

If re-approved in its current form, the Monroe bypass will start along U.S. 74 near the Mecklenburg County line and Interstate 485, run briefly east, then roughly parallel U.S. 74 until it reconnects with the highway west of Marshville, according to the Charlotte Observer. Groundbreaking for the $725 million project was previously set for August. Though the road was scheduled to open in 2015, that date may be pushed back while the Agencies scramble to develop a new plan and timeline to comply with NEPA.

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