Monroe Bypass Project
The highly controversial Monroe Bypass Project will consist of a new toll road constructed parallel to existing US-74, extending from the US-74 and I-485 intersection in eastern Mecklenberg County to US 74 near the town of Marshville in Union County. The project is facilitated by the North Carolina Turnpike Authority and will be approximately 19.7 miles in length, and cost around $825M. The purpose of the project is to alleviate traffic on existing US-74.
Last year, when the NC DOT was applying for the final permits necessary to sell their remaining bonds and initiate the project, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of several water and air quality advocacy groups, filed a suit against NC DOT aimed at blocking construction of the project. The law suit stemmed from allegations from advocacy groups that the NC DOT withheld pertinent environmental information while compiling their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is a requirement for projects receiving federal funding.
The EIS required the NC DOT to conduct analysis on various environmental impacts assuming the road is constructed and assuming the road is not constructed, typically referred to as the “build vs. no-build alternative’. The Southern Environmental Law Center claims that the NC DOT used data that assumed the Monroe Connector/Bypass highway was already in place when conducting their ‘no-build’ analysis. This means that the Turnpike Authority did not conduct a true “build vs. no build” study.
Although the Army Corps of Engineers gave final environmental approval by issuing the 404 permit necessary for the NC DOT to sell the remaining bonds, acquire ROW and start construction, the project is on hold until a federal judge rules on the environmental suit, expected to come late August.
Christy Shumate, a representative of the project and NC DOT employee stated in an e-mail to us that, “Unfortunately our project has been stalled, including right of way acquisitions, due to the pending lawsuit against the project. There is no set schedule for this to be resolved, but we are hopeful that we will be moving forward with property acquisitions before the end of this year. This could change at any time depending on the judge’s decisions as the case progresses. I don’t have any other information available at this time”
We’ve stated in previous blog posts how difficult it is to stop a public use project, specifically a road project facilitated by the DOT. The courts give the state DOT, and condemning authorities in general, a lot of latitude when it comes to planning, design and property acquisition for a public use project. If the state DOT follows the rules and regulations required by their various funding sources, then it’s almost impossible to stop a highway project. However, in the rare instance that an agency fails to follow the proper steps required for funding, a lawsuit such as the one initiated by the SELC can bring a project to a screeching halt. Although these lawsuits typically fail at shelving a project permanently, they will certainly delay the project by forcing the DOT to correct their mistakes made during the planning process. Depending upon the severity of the situation, this process could take months or years.
If you’re affected by this project, you should know that eminent domain law requires the condemning authority to pay just compensation for your land. Frequently an owner will only receive full compensation by allowing condemnation to occur. In condemnation an owner can show that the rules for highest and best use will produce a higher price than the amount offered by the government. Learn more about eminent domain.
In a future blog post, we’ll discuss the troubling situations faced by property owners affected by the project and any legal remedies available to them.