Chamber resolution draws fire from Bypass opponent

Mar. 06, 2013 @ 05:02 PM

The Union County Chamber of Commerce resolution supporting accelerating construction of the Monroe Bypass prompted a response from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The SELC, which represents three plaintiffs who successfully sued to halt bypass work, copied several local officials and media on an email to N.C. Transportation Secretary Tony Tata Wednesday.

"...I want to make you aware of a resolution being circulated in Union County with regard to the Bypass.  This resolution lists a number of reasons to support the Monroe Bypass, including many that sit in direct opposition to (N.C.Department of Transportation)’s own findings," wrote SELC attorney Kym Hunter. (See full text of SELC letter to the NCDOT in related content.)

The Union County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored resolution was adopted by the Monroe City Council and the Union County Board of Education Tuesday. The resolution asks legislators to find ways to expedite resumption of bypass construction. Work on the project stopped suddenly last May when the U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit ruled that the NCDOT and N. C. Turnpike Authority did not properly perform environmental impact studies as required by federal law.

Chamber president Sharon Rosché said Tuesday that the NCDOT recently announced the timeline for resuming work was pushed back another year. The resolution states that the bypass is needed to spur new economic growth in Union County.

Bypass-induced growth contradicts the NCTA's studies that predicted little economic development due to the bypass construction, Hunter wrote.

"In light of this confusion at the local level, we respectfully request that you issue a public statement clarifying the purpose and likely impact of the Bypass and making clear that the decision-making process regarding the Bypass and other alternative solutions remains very much open," Hunter wrote.

The NCDOT will continue working to resolve the court's issues with impact studies, NCDOT Communications Director Greer Beaty said.

"I haven't seen the letter, and the only comment I can make is that we are focused now on updating and reviewing the environmental documents so we can have environmental documents that resolve the problems with the previous documents found by the appeals court," Beaty said.

Rosché defended the reasons to support the bypass in the chamber's resolution. Despite findings by the NCTA and NCDOT, she maintained that the bypass would bring new businesses and industry to Union County.

"You can do all the studies in the world but the reality is that I've got towns in Union County that have purchased water opportunities and sewer and are ready to build as soon as this thing goes over," Rosché said.

The SELC refuted the chamber's resolution point by point, stating that NCDOT studies found the bypass would have no practical effect on travel times in the county and that state data predicted existence of the bypass to increase the average commute between 18 seconds and 5.7 minutes.

Comments about added economic growth and more jobs were targeted, with the SELC quoting NCDOT study data showing only 1 percent increase in the ability to attract new business in 5 percent of the area impacted by the bypass. Elsewhere, it was less than a 1 percent increase in development attractiveness according to NCDOT studies. Construction of the bypass would also cause the NCDOT to not plan future improvements to Highway 74 to avoid competition with the bypass toll road. NCDOT data was used to refute comments that the bypass would divert larger trucks and beach traffic.

But growth has already begun because of the bypass without it even having been built, Rosché said. Marshville and Wingate are poised to welcome new business. Developers bought land along the bypass footprint, in anticipation of a higher demand.

"NCDOT can do study after study, but if they talk to the people, talk to the residents of Union County, they would find that a lot of new growth will come with that road," she said.

Despite statistics about increased population in the last decade, Rosché pointed to a Monroe City Council resolution supporting the bypass in 1980.

"We needed this road way back when and we need it even more now," she said.

Union County needs the bypass to attract new businesses, to increase the non-residential tax base, to compete with other areas for industries and make transportation smoother and faster for residents, she said. Economic development and growth will come with a bypass, even if NCDOT studies show otherwise, she said.   

"I think studies can say whatever you want them to say," Rosché said. "They can use certain information, certain formulas and studies and have the result support what you want them to."