RALEIGH, N.C. – A major highway project in Raleigh will have to incorporate environmental protections as part of a legal settlement between the North Carolina Department of Transportation and several environmental groups.
Daniel Parkhurst, policy manager for Clean Air Carolina, one of the plaintiffs in the case, says the plan for a six-lane highway and tolls will increase traffic, emissions and urban sprawl.
“Because Raleigh, Durham, the whole Triangle area has undergone a very large population growth over the past 10 years and is really set to increase that, it is just frustrating as an environmental organization to see the old mode of thought of ‘more people means we need new roads,'” he states.
According to the settlement, the Transportation Department will have to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from construction equipment, protect the water quality of the streams and rivers in the project area and work to restore wildlife habitats.
Construction for the highway, known as Complete 540, is slated to begin this fall.
Parkhurst says the settlement also requires the state to support boosting access to public transportation.
“By guaranteeing that all future high occupancy toll lanes will include free access to public transit, as well as working with local public transit organizations like GoTriangle and others to fund routes on this highway,” he points out.
Kym Hunter, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, negotiated the settlement. She says the case has far reaching implications.
“The bottom line for the settlement is that not only will NCDOT have to set in place policies and additional protections for species and water and air for this project, but more importantly they will now have to implement climate change polices and other policies for the entire state of North Carolina,” she explains.
Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon has said settling the lawsuit means taxpayers won’t have to pay for ongoing litigation and project delays, and ensures that natural areas in Wake County and surrounding regions are preserved.