RALEIGH, N.C – On February 18, 2016, the federal government abandoned its long-running defense of the controversial Garden Parkway, a proposed toll highway project near Charlotte. The Federal Highway Administration (“FHWA”) filed a motion to dismiss its appeal of an earlier ruling in which a federal district court found that the environmental review of the toll highway had been performed illegally. The North Carolina Department of Transportation is now the only party left defending the $900 million toll highway.
“We are delighted that the federal government has come to its sense as has finally abandoned its fight for this wasteful and destructive project” said Emilee Syrewicze, Executive Director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation. “Residents of Gaston County have long been opposed to this project which would devastate the Catawba River basin and destroy entire communities.”
FHWA’s move today comes more than three years after the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a challenge to the Garden Parkway toll road in federal court on behalf of two conservation groups, the Catawba Riverkeeper and Clean Air Carolina. When the groups first brought the case, NCDOT was poised to begin construction of the $900 million toll highway. The groups alerted permitting agencies that NCDOT’s analysis of the highway was fundamentally flawed and ensured that construction did not commence until legal issues had been resolved.
As the legal fight dragged on, the groups worked outside of the courtroom with state legislators to ensure that the toll highway project was not given preferential funding over higher priority projects. Legislation passed in 2013 stripped the road of its earmarked funding and required it to be vetted through a new scoring process. Not surprisingly, the project received an abysmal score and in 2015 was removed from the state’s ten year transportation plan. Disregarding this, NCDOT and FHWA continued to vigorously defend the toll highway in court.
Ultimately, the conservation groups were successful in their challenge. Judge James Dever of the United States District Court of North Carolina ruled that the transportation agencies had relied on unsupported assumptions in their review of the toll highway. The transportation agencies asked Judge Dever to reconsider his opinion but were again rebuffed by the court. The agencies then filed appeals in the United States Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit. Today, NCDOT stands alone in its fight for the toll road, but continues to actively advocate for the project at North Carolina state taxpayer’s expense.
The Conservation Groups hope that the North Carolina Department of Transportation may now finally abandon its support for the toll road.
“The Charlotte region’s air quality is finally improving to the point where we are close to meeting truly health-based standards.” said June Blotnick, Executive Director of Clean Air Carolina. “The Garden Parkway and other major highways planned for our region will jeopardize our federal air quality attainment status and threaten the health of our residents. We hope that the State of North Carolina will soon follow the lead of the federal government and put this project to rest once and for all.”
Press Release from the Southern Environmental Law Center
CONTACT: Kym Hunter, Southern Environmental Law Center – (919) 967-1450
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of almost 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation advocates for the health, protection and enjoyment of the Catawba-Wateree River watershed. The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation provides education, processes and programs to protect drinking water and the many resources of the entire Catawba-Wateree River watershed. Catawba Riverkeeper’s experienced network includes a diverse community of members, engaged volunteers and professional staff whose dedication of time, talent and resources protect and enhance our river today and for future generations. The vision of Catawba Riverkeeper is for the waters of the entire Catawba-Wateree River basin to always be of high quality and abundant quantity to sustain and enhance the lives of all the humans, the wildlife and the ecosystems that depend on it.
Clean Air Carolina is a non-profit organization based in Charlotte, NC. Its mission is to ensure cleaner air quality by educating the community about how air quality affects our health, advocating for stronger clean air policies, and partnering with other organizations committed to cleaner air and sustainable practices.