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Justification For Monroe Bypass Toll Road Questioned

Environmental groups allege faulty data was used to justify a toll road from Charlotte to Monroe. Documents produced in a lawsuit aimed at blocking the toll road suggest state transportation authorities knew the numbers were wrong and hid that from the public. The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed suit to block construction of the Monroe Bypass on behalf of several water and air quality advocacy groups. Their latest filings in the lawsuit unearth numerous email exchanges between state transportation engineers and consultants that suggest a fundamental flaw in analysis of how the new toll road would affect the environment. They're supposed to project the environmental impact if the road is built and if the road is not built. "What they actually did was they ended up comparing building the road with building the road," says SELC attorney Chandra Taylor. The SELC alleges state engineers based their comparisons on data that assumed the toll road had already been built. "So it makes it seem as if this 20 mile new location toll road has almost no impact on the environment, and just by common sense that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense," says Taylor. North Carolina Department of Transportation spokeswoman Greer Beatty says the email exchanges show just a small part of a lengthy engineering process and that the final environmental impact statement for the Monroe Bypass was accurate. "We're confident that we did the math and followed standard procedures," says Beatty. "We worked with the community. The document is good. The numbers are good and we look forward to the judge handing down the ruling as soon as possible." A hearing on the lawsuit is expected this summer. Construction on the new toll road to Monroe could begin as soon as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers grants a final permit. All other agencies have given their approval for the $800 million project.