Cover Story: Monroe bypass - green light

STALLINGS, NC (WBTV) - The stop and go traffic nightmare many commuters face everyday is one step closer to being a distant dream.

After delays and lawsuits, the Charlotte area's first toll road is getting the go ahead.

A federal judge has cleared the way for work to begin on the much anticipated Monroe bypass.

This is news a lot of people who use Highway 74 to get to work or to the beach have been waiting to hear.

The project has been dreamed about for decades.  Years planned as the Charlotte area's first toll road and now the cloud over the Monroe Bypass is finally lifting.

"When I come down here there wasn't nothing here but me."

Jerry Oliver has been a fixture on US 74 in Stallings for 33 years.  Used cars and used parts - used to be way out in the country.  Now he's part of suburbia.

And he's in the way of the Monroe Bypass.

"It's coming right across here," he pointed to us, "three bridges right across the top of me."

For a one mile stretch beginning at I-485 the toll road will be elevated above the current Highway 74.  And then in Stallings the road peels off at Oliver's Used Cars and follows a route through mostly countryside paralleling 74 and bypassing Monroe before ending in Marshville 20 miles later.

Is it needed? Jerry Oliver says you bet it is.  And this from a man who will have to move.

"I love it.. glad it's going to be done," he said.  "They've got to have it.  People set out here in the summer time three - four hours at a time trying to get through Monroe."

"About where we're standing.."

Stallings Mayor Lynda Paxton says the toll road - bypass combo is seen as good news - bad news.

Good that a judge has given the project a green light.  Bad in that peoples' lives are going to be disrupted and some changed forever.

Paxton sees it as a way to start over.  "Actually as a town we're excited about the opportunity to rebuild, redevelop because this is not a particularly attractive corridor. And this is the entrance into Union County," she said.

Environmentalists sued trying to block the bypass saying the North Carolina Turnpike Authority rigged traffic and environmental studies to justify building the road.

A federal judge in Raleigh rejected their argument.

Environmental groups could still appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

Reid Simons is with the North Carolina Turnpike Authority.

"The case could be appealed. But as far as we're concerned the case is closed. The judge has made his decision and we're moving forward," said Simons.

Next month the Turnpike Authority is expected to begin selling bonds to build the $800 million toll road.  It'll then begin buying up right of way and start to break ground in March barring any more hiccups.

"Frankly the community has expressed interest," said Simons, "made this a top priority for Union county and Mecklenburg county for more than 20 years. This project is a long time coming."

"It's about time.  It's about time," said Paxton.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which headed up the legal challenge, reportedly hasn't decided whether it will appeal.

If work starts next March like they're expecting the road will be completed about four years from now in late 2015.

It will bypass 26 traffic lights along one of the busiest roads in the state.

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