Analyst: Bypass study is flawed

Jan. 11, 2014 @ 04:46 PM

The updated environmental study for the proposed bypass contains flaws, according to a transportation planner who analyzed the EIS on behalf of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

David Hartgen, a transportation planner and head of a transportation consulting group in the Charlotte area, prepared an analysis of the bypass EIS on behalf of the SELC, the law firm that successfully sued to stop construction of the bypass in 2012. He states that the EIS does not properly explain the need for the bypass.

The primary stated need is to “improve mobility and capacity within the project study area.” But the study spends more time expounding the second and third purposes, high-speed regional travel and maintaning access to businesses along existing 74.

See Bypass/Page A8

“Focusing on the second and third purposes, and not the first, leads to the consideration of alternatives that are largely on new alignment, that is, off existing U.S. 74’s current location,” Hartgen wrote.

The N.C. Department of Transportation’s purpose for the bypass also contains what Hartgen considers misstatements. The proposed bypass does not link up to I-485 as stated in the EIS, but instead exits onto U.S. 74 about a mile from the intersection of U.S. 74 and I-485. The EIS also states traffic along U.S. 74 is uniform along its entire length and at all times. But Hartgen argues that congestion tapers off once U.S. 74 reaches the the eastern Monroe city line. Traffic is also worse during morning and evening traffic commute times.

The statement of need also pushed a toll road because of a lack of state transportation funds to build the road. But Hartgen wrote that conflicts with the governor’s Strategic Transportation Plan that re-prioritized all needed road projects.

Hartgen also questions the lack of attention to weekend travelers to the coast and their benefit from the bypass.

“This oversight demonstrates either unfamiliarity with an unstated key “purpose and need” of the project, or (worse) implies that stating this additional purpose would reduce the project’s political support,” he wrote.

Federal law requires NCDOT to consider alternatives, but Hartgen wrote it appears NCDOT is biased against improvements to U.S. 74. A limited number of alternatives were judged to be appropriate, Hargen wrote. Widening U.S. 74, or following a “superstreet” model as NCDOT is planning for a portion of U.S. 74, was specifically discounted as an option.

“At the least, prudence would dictate that the ‘Superstreet’ option now being implemented on a portion of U.S. 74 should be reviewed for effectiveness, and additional Superstreet improvements be considered in combination with other improvements in the corridor, BEFORE a decision to build the Bypass is made,” he wrote.

Hartgen then turns to future traffic forecasts.

“Traffic forecasts for 2035 were not re-computed for some alternatives, thus possibly over-stating future Bypass traffic and under-stating traffic improvements for some alternatives,” Hartgen wrote. “Some of the recently completed and planned future improvements to U.S. 74 and their effect on traffic forecasts have not been included in the traffic forecasts, and their effect on Bypass traffic therefore appears to be under-stated.”

He also argues that the EIS’s traffic growth trends do not reflect evidence that there has been no major growth in U.S. 74 traffic since 2000.

“Moreover, the forecast of population, which drives the traffic forecast, is based on a pre-Recession projection; recent population growth has slowed markedly. Essentially the entire justification for the project rests on traffic forecasts that ignore 12 years of recent history, recent economic upheaval, and slower population growth.”

Nor does the EIS consider how much of the projected traffic expected to divert to the bypass is local and how much is traveling long distance.

Hartgen goes to to question other statements made in the EIS, like the estimated travel time saved, lack of consideration for planned future land use and the amount of bypass-induced growth.

“In summary, based on these and other issues described below, my review finds that the traffic forecasts presented in the DSFEIS are too uncertain and insufficiently supported to be the basis for decision-making regarding the Monroe Connector/Bypass,” Hartgen wrote.