RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Federal officials have approved an environmental study of plans to finish the southern section of the Raleigh Outer Loop.

The N.C. Turnpike Authority didn't expect approval from the Federal Highway Administration until next year on the 30-mile, $2 billion final leg of the highway from the N.C. Highway 55 bypass in Apex to the U.S. 64 bypass in Knightdale.

Turnpike Authority Executive Director Beau Memory told The News & Observer of Raleigh that finishing the loop is the top priority of the regional business community

But Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Kym Hunter says the new highway will destroy natural beauty in exchange for shorter commute times only for people who can afford to pay a toll.

Memory says federal environmental approval means construction could begin in a few years.

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Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com