Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 21, 2019

Contacts:  Kym Hunter, Southern Environmental Law Center, (919) 967-1450
Perrin de Jong, Center for Biological Diversity, (828) 774-5638,

Petition Challenges Deficient Water Quality Permit for $2.2B North Carolina Highway

RALEIGH, N.C.— Conservation groups today filed a petition in North Carolina’s Office of Administrative Hearings challenging a state water quality certification permitting the construction of Interstate 540, a $2.2 billion toll highway south of Raleigh. The highway would be the most expensive highway project in North Carolina’s history. 

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the petition on behalf of Sound Rivers, the Center for Biological Diversity and Clean Air Carolina.

This petition challenges the North Carolina Division of Water Resources’ failure to consider the toll highway’s devastating impacts on water quality, endangered aquatic species and development patterns in Wake County. It also challenges the division’s failure to consider other cost-effective and less environmentally destructive alternatives. 

The proposed toll highway would tear through 57,000 linear feet of streams and 70 acres of wetlands. By encouraging unplanned growth to sprawl out of Raleigh and into southeast Wake County, the toll highway would increase impervious surfaces and associated stormwater runoff. The roadway would also contribute to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions and degrade local air quality.  

Beyond the environmental costs, drivers would pay a hefty toll which would be unaffordable for many segments of the population. This would force low-income communities to suffer the from the highway’s construction and operational costs, but obtain no benefit from it.   

“We are disappointed that Governor Cooper’s administration continues to aggressively press forward with this project, despite the governor’s commitment to combatting climate change,” said Kym Hunter, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The toll highway will result in devastating impacts to the natural and human environment and we are disappointed to see what amounts to a rubber stamp approval of a project that deserves much greater scrutiny.”

The petition is the conservation groups’ latest action to halt construction on this expensive, outdated and environmentally destructive highway project. The groups have already filed numerous claims in federal court challenging approvals for the project by other state and federal agencies.

“We are disappointed in the Cooper administration for approving a project with such enormous consequences for wetlands and water quality in Southern Wake County,” said Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr. “The Division of Water Resources is abandoning its duty to protect water resources with this approval of what would be one of the state’s most destructive highway projects.”

“This highway would irreversibly damage some of the last remaining Wake County streams that support unique, sensitive aquatic wildlife like the Neuse River waterdog and several rare and endangered mussels,” said Perrin de Jong, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “This highway project must be stopped.”

The conservation groups have repeatedly urged North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Secretary of Transportation Jim Trogdon to reconsider construction of the toll highway and pursue other lower cost, less damaging and equitable transportation options.

The groups have issued an innovative alternative solution, ACCESS2040, which would rely on upgrading existing roads and innovative transportation improvements to reduce congestion throughout the Complete 540 project area at a much lower cost and with far fewer environmental impacts. 

“Especially after the governor’s executive order on climate change, we are disheartened to see the division approve a highway of this magnitude which will significantly exacerbate climate emissions,” said June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina. “This highway would only further impair air the state’s quality, while providing little benefit to the public.”

For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.

The mission of Sound Rivers is to monitor and protect the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River watersheds covering nearly one quarter of North Carolina, and to preserve the health and beauty of the river basin through environmental justice.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Clean Air Carolina is a statewide nonprofit organization whose mission is to ensure cleaner air quality for all North Carolinians through education and advocacy and by working with our partners to reduce sources of pollution.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

More press releases