Bypass remains on list of funded projects

Apr. 09, 2013 @ 04:13 PM

An N.C. Senate bill introduced last week would repeal most in-progress toll road projects except the Monroe Bypass.

The bill, filed by Sen. Bill Rabon R-8, removes certain road projects from the N.C. Turnpike Authority's active list. The Cape Fear Skyway, the Garden Parkway and the Mid-Currituck Bridge, a two-mile bridge connecting a North Carolina peninsula on the Virginia border to the mainland.

Remaining as active projects are the Monroe Bypass and Triangle Expressway, including parts known as the Triangle Expressway, Western Wake Freeway, Southeast Extension and segments of N.C. 540.

The draft legislation goes on to amend annual appropriation to the NCTA. Instead of the yearly $112 million to pay for projects, the state would provide the NCTA $49 million.

About half of that amount, $24 million, "shall be used to pay debt service or related financing expenses on revenue bonds or notes issued for the construction of the Monroe Connector/Bypass," the bill states.

Before the Monroe Bypass received all necessary permits, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit against the NCTA. SELC attorneys and their environmental group clients claimed the NCTA did not prepare proper development impact studies.

Most major work on the bypass halted until the suit was resolved. After a favorable court ruling in 2011, the NCTA borrowed most of the $725 million project cost to begin work on the Monroe Bypass. Right-of-way purchases and early design work were underway when the SELC successfully appealed a lower court's decision.

All work on the Monroe Bypass stopped, environmental permits were suspended and N.C. Department of Transportation officials state they will resolve problems cited by the federal judges as quickly as possible.

It is unclear how much of the borrowed money has been spent and how much the state will pay in annual interest payments, but the draft legislation hints that it is at least part of the annual $24 million appropriated to the NCTA.

Even before the bill was filed, N.C. Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata endorsed the move. Though the projects are not scrapped for good, they would have to compete for NCDOT priority and funding.

The senate bill pass its first reading and was referred to the Senate Transportation Subcommittee and may be moved to the Appropriations/Base Budget Subcommittee.