Legislative leaders decided this week that the state Department of Transportation needs help -- more help than it is getting from the state Attorney General's Office -- in fighting environmental lawsuits that have stalled major road and bridge projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The $20.6 billion budget up for final House and Senate approval Wednesday includes a provision authorizing DOT to bypass the Attorney General and hire "private counsel with the pertinent expertise to timely defend or otherwise resolve legal challenges" to DOT projects.
This help may not come soon enough to clear away the environmental challenges that have prevented DOT from breaking ground on a $215 million replacement for the Oregon Inlet bridge, the Garden Parkway toll road in Gaston County ($843 million) and the Monroe Bypass toll road in Union County ($725 million). But it might give DOT more muscle to fend off expected challenges to other turnpike plans -- including the Triangle Expressway extension through sensitive wetlands in southern Wake County, and the Mid-Currituck Bridge for vacationers on the Outer Banks. ... [MORE]