BRADENTON, Fla. — After the sale of $673 million of bonds to finance most of North Carolina’s second toll road — the 19.7-mile Monroe Connector — the project has stalled.
Work has stopped following a legal decision in which an appellate judge criticized the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration for their handling of a federal environmental review.
On Wednesday, NCDOT announced that it would hold community meetings June 18-19 regarding the project’s legal, environmental and construction status.
The meetings are a result of a May 3 decision handed down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals stating that “critical assumptions” about building the toll road were not disclosed and incorrect information was provided to the public in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.
The appellate opinion, written for the majority by Judge Diana Motz, said that state and federal agencies improperly evaluated various alignments for the Monroe Connector, which require an analysis of various routes versus not building it at all.
Motz found that the studies assumed that the road was already in existence.
She overturned a ruling last October by U.S. District Court Judge James Dever, who had rejected claims that NEPA violations had occurred in a suit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Clean Air Carolina, and the Yadkin Riverkeeper.
The suit was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.
“NCDOT is filing a petition for rehearing that seeks a review by the full circuit court of the legal analysis arising out of technical data and facts that the state believes the higher court panel misunderstood,” state officials said in a release.
At press time Thursday, the department had not filed for the rehearing, though the deadline is later this month.
State officials could not be reached for further comment.
The North Carolina Turnpike Authority, which sold most of the debt for the road, said it is reviewing issues detailed in the appellate panel’s opinion to determine what, if any, additional environmental study might be necessary.
The authority is also hiring experts to assist it with data analysis. “Construction activity is on hold until NCDOT addresses the legal and procedural options available to advance the project,” the turnpike said.
A check of the Municipal Services Rulemaking Board’s EMMA electronic filing platform shows that bondholders have not been notified about the appellate decision, which was handed down more than a month ago.
After winning the initial case last October, the Turnpike Authority and the state moved forward with final pieces of financing for the project after having already sold $233.9 million of taxable Build America Bonds, backed by a state appropriation, in 2010.
The environmental lawsuit was filed shortly after the BABs were issued.
Last year, North Carolina sold an additional $214.5 million of state appropriation bonds, $10 million of senior-lien bonds, and $214.5 million of grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds.
NCDOT has dedicated at least $77 million of its program funds for the project, and another $11 million for the state Garvee match.
During the upcoming community meetings, the public can ask questions and meet with right-of-way agents regarding schedule, relocation,and assistance programs. Various project materials also will be on display, such as maps and roadway designs.