BRADENTON, Fla. - The North Carolina Department of Transportation plans to conduct new environmental studies for the $802 million Monroe Connector/Bypass toll road for which much of the debt has already been sold.

The state had already selected a contractor for its second toll road project when the Southern Environmental Law Center sued and convinced a federal judge last year that the proper studies necessary to get federal permission for the project had not been done.

The ruling prompted the Federal Highway Administration to rescind the toll road’s first Record of Decision in July 2012.

NCDOT said it now expects to obtain a new Record of Decision late this year for the 19.7-mile limited-access bypass project around heavily congested U.S. 74 from Monroe to Charlotte.

“The bypass is important to regional mobility, and we are working diligently to move it forward,” said NCDOT Engineer Louis Mitchell. “We also are committed to full transparency and disclosure throughout each step of the process.”

The agency is planning to have a draft supplemental environmental review document ready by this summer for public comment.

The final environmental review and a Record of Decision are expected late in the year.

To fund most of the project, the North Carolina Turnpike Authority sold $234 million of state-appropriation-backed revenue bonds as federally taxable Build America Bonds in October 2010, and $214.5 million of tax-exempt, state-appropriation-backed revenue bonds in November 2011.

The state also sold $145.5 million of grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds last December.

A $10 million loan for the project was privately placed.

No tolls are pledged to the bonds that have been sold. The bond resolution allows for proceeds of the appropriation and Garvee bonds to be used for certain other projects.

In August, the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Clean Air Carolina and the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, filed a second suit in federal court challenging the $1 billion Garden Parkway toll road project.

That suit alleged that the Turnpike Authority and the Federal Highway Administration performed a “fundamentally flawed” analysis of the Garden Parkway similar to the way the agencies made errors in analyzing the Monroe Connector.

While the litigation is pending, NCDOT has suspended the procurement process that was under way to select design-build contractors.

The Garden Parkway is a 22-mile, limited-access toll road from Interstate 85 west of Gastonia in Gaston County to I-485 near the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in Mecklenburg County.

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