Environmental groups ask NCDOT to reconsider proposed 540 toll road | News | Indy Week
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Monday, January 11, 2016

Environmental groups ask NCDOT to reconsider proposed 540 toll road

Posted by on Mon, Jan 11, 2016 at 1:42 PM

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Traffic is nightmarish in and all around Raleigh. So the North Carolina Department of Transportation plans to deal with greater Raleigh traffic in exactly the way one would expect of an antiquated, change-averse beacon of bureaucracy: by building the most expensive highway in North Carolina history, and saddling drivers— who could be spared merely 10 minutes of their daily commute, and are already going to be hit with higher DMV taxes and fees— with paying tolls.

NCDOT has proposed completing the 540 outer loop around Raleigh by extending the Triangle Expressway from the N.C. 55 Bypass in Apex to the U.S. 64/U.S. 264 Bypass in Knightdale. The project, which has been under discussion for several years now, would cost an estimated $2.1-2.6 billion, double the amount of funding allocated in North Carolina’s ten-year transportation plan.

Some folks, including the conservation groups Sound Rivers, Clean Air Carolina and the Southern Environmental Law Center, think there are better ways to address traffic congestion besides building super and super-expensive highways that will displace residents and wreak havoc on the environment— by upgrading the existing highway infrastructure or expanding mass transit, for example.

So far, NCDOT has not considered other options.

“Each outdated, expensive toll highway option presented by NCDOT would require hundreds of families to relocate and do unprecedented damage to the environment, destroying at least 50 acres of wetlands and miles of streams and severely impacting water quality in Southern Wake County,” said Matthew Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper.

“This over-priced and unnecessary toll highway will directly impact the health of everyone in the region by increasing air pollution during the construction phase as well as putting more cars on the road,” said June Blotnick, the executive director of Clean Air Carolina. “Children’s developing lungs are extremely vulnerable to air pollution.” Blotnick notes that 25 Wake County schools and six Johnston County public schools fall within the vicinity of the proposed toll highway.

Attorneys at the Southern Environmental Law Center are also questioning whether initial funding for the project was secured fairly. Since 2013, North Carolina has used a data-driven “Strategic Transportation Investments” process to rank transportation projects that are competing for funding based on several different factors, including a cost to benefit ratio. The SELC’s attorneys say that the data used to score the Complete 540 project shows that NCDOT used project cost estimates that represent only a small proportion of the more than $2 billion projection found in environmental documents.

“If legitimate project cost estimates had been used during the scoring process, it is unlikely that the Complete 540 project would have outranked other more cost effective, needed transportation improvements in the state,” said Kym Hunter, an SELC attorney representing the conservation groups. “If this new data-driven process is to mean anything, it is essential that realistic data be used. We therefore urge the NCDOT to re-score the project using the true cost estimates.”

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