“Complete 540” highway near Raleigh makes national list of highway boondoggles

Proposed $2 billion highway would generate sprawl while destroying wetlands and threatening endangered wildlife

NC PIRG Education Fund

RALEIGH. N.C. — North Carolina transportation officials are planning to spend $2 billion on a new six-lane highway south of Raleigh, the most expensive highway in the state’s history. According to a new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, the “Complete 540 project” would cause sprawling development and degrade the environment.

“To improve North Carolina’s transportation system, we have to reduce our reliance on cars and highways,” said Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Transportation Campaign director. “This project does the opposite, doubling down on a car-centric system that will lead to more traffic, pollution and sprawl.”

Complete 540 would have significant environmental consequences, paving over 70 acres of wetlands, destroying more than 55,000 feet of streams, and cutting through the region’s few remaining green spaces, destroying a critical habitat for federally listed threatened mussel species in the process.

Given that transportation emissions are the number one source of greenhouse gases nationwide, the project also conflicts with Gov. Roy Cooper’s stated commitment to fight climate change. Last October, Gov. Cooper signed an executive order committing North Carolina to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent and meet the targets established in the Paris Climate Accord. But according to a state estimate, the new highway would lead to an increase in driving, increasing carbon emissions.

“Sometimes it’s the infrastructure we don’t build that makes all the difference,” said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, report co-author. “Cities from Dallas to Tampa to Milwaukee have discovered that ditching boondoggle highway projects has opened up new opportunities to build stronger, cleaner and more fiscally sustainable communities.”

The report recommends that North Carolina cancel the Complete 540 expansion and other proposed highway projects, and instead invest in more effective solutions, such as road repair and transit expansion.  


“North Carolina, like the rest of America, still has a misplaced appetite for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects. But if we’re smarter about how we spend our transportation dollars, we can achieve an affordable and better-functioning transportation system that also helps address fight climate change,” said Casale. “That means avoiding spending billions of dollars on harmful, wasteful projects like the Complete 540 highway.”