Raleigh, N.C. — House lawmakers could vote Wednesday to repeal their 2011 law banning the N.C. Highway 540 "red route" through Garner.
Wake County leaders have planned for years for an N.C. 540 corridor – the "orange route" – that would take the loop south of Garner. But federal officials insisted on studying alternate routes, including the "red route," which would take the highway through the middle of Garner.
At the request of Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams, state lawmakers passed a law in 2011 that banned transportation officials from even studying the red route.
Federal transportation officials responded by cutting off planning funds needed to complete the loop, saying the state was no longer in compliance with environmental regulations for the project.
Now, lawmakers are rolling back the ban with House Bill 10, championed by Speaker Pro Tem Skip Stam and Senior Budget Chairman Nelson Dollar, two Wake County Republicans who represent much of the affected area.
"If you’re missing a third of a loop, it’s not a loop," Stam told the House Transportation Committee Tuesday. "This bill allows us to proceed forward with connecting."
"If we want to get this route built, we have to comply with the requirements to study as the federal government has set them," Dollar said. "We need to move forward on this. This is jobs. This will be huge for jobs in Wake County."
Williams has been a critic of the repeal, but said he understands it's necessary.
"I’ve lost a great deal of sleep over the red route," Williams said, adding that he's still opposed to the repeal in theory.
From the discussions and explanations I’ve heard, it’s probably the best we can do right now," he said. "We don’t like it, but we are going to accept it if you promise that things will be expedited and happen quickly."
The bill attempts to do that by instructing state Department of Transportation officials to do whatever they can to expedite the federal study. DOT Chief Operating Officer Jim Trogdon said the process could take 12 to 24 months. The study will be paid for by the U.S. DOT.
Dollar told Williams not to lose any more sleep.
"To my knowledge, it was never anybody’s intent that the red route would ever be used for this road," he said. "It wouldn’t make sense financially."
"If for some reason, following the environmental studies by the federal folks, they came up and said the only route [N.C. 540] could be would be the red route," Dollar said, "you would see myself and others step forward with legislation saying this is not going to be built."