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TROUBLE FOR NCTA PROJECT

Permit delay dogs Monroe bypass
Still under review, last permit holds up bond sale and construction.
By Adam Bell
abell@charlotteobserver.com
Posted: Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011

Two months after the state had expected to start construction on the $950 million Monroe Connector-Bypass, the road remains in limbo because it lacks one final environmental permit.

Without that permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, the state also cannot sell bonds for financing the project or formally award the contract to design and build the road. The long-awaited, 19.7-mile road in Union County would be the Charlotte area’s first modern toll road and is designed to ease congestion on U.S. 74.

The state insists there are no problems with the permit application.

Such permits are needed for projects that would impact wetlands, streams and ponds, said Liz Hair, project manager for the corps field office in Asheville. She said the state’s request, which the office received Sept. 21, is still being reviewed.

There is no set time to issue a decision.

North Carolina still expects to be awarded the permit at any time, said N.C. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Greer Beaty, but she did not have any information on when that might happen.

Beaty said she did not know whether the delay would affect the 2014 scheduled opening of the road or the sale of remaining bonds. The state sold about a third of the $808 million in bonds needed to help finance the work last October, but still must sell another $500 million worth of bonds.

Last fall, N.C. Turnpike Authority officials said they expected construction to start in December once all the permits were secured. In late December they said they anticipated getting the final corps permit “shortly.”

The connector-bypass officially starts along U.S. 74 near Interstate 485 and the Mecklenburg County line. It would go briefly east and then roughly parallel U.S. 74 until it reconnects with that highway just west of Marshville.

The road is projected to cut travel time by 17 minutes, as drivers avoid some two dozen traffic lights along U.S. 74, which is a heavy commuter route for people in Mecklenburg and Union counties and one of the few N.C. roads that runs from the beach to the mountains.

Car drivers could pay an average of $2.58 to $3.95 for the entire trip, depending on whether they have a prepaid transponder used in toll collections.

Also this week, environmental groups trying to stop the project challenged a state water-quality permit issued for the connector-bypass.

They claimed the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources did not fully assess the water-quality impact of building the road through the Yadkin River watershed before issuing the permit.

Chandra Taylor, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center representing the groups fighting the project, said if the corps permit is approved, her clients have the option of seeking an injunction to block the bond sales.
Adam Bell: 704-358-5696

Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/02/24/2086439/permit-delay-dogs-monroe-bypass.html#disqus_thread#ixzz1EzVD0czA

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