Raleigh, N.C. — The House on Wednesday tentatively approved a repeal of a 2011 law prohibiting transportation planners from considering routing N.C. Highway 540 through Garner.
In a vote that crossed party lines, the House voted 79-37 on the second reading of House Bill 10. A final vote is expected Thursday, after which it would go to the Senate.
Wake County leaders have planned for years for an N.C. 540 corridor that would take the highway south of Garner. But federal officials insisted on studying alternatives, including the so-called "red route," which would take the highway through the middle of town.
After lawmakers blocked planners from even studying the red route, federal transportation officials cut off planning funds needed to complete N.C. 540, saying the state was no longer in compliance with environmental regulations for the project.
Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, urged passage of the bill, saying the red route had to be on the table so that the rest of the N.C. 540 loop can be built. But he vowed that the route would never be used, saying it's not financially feasible to plow under Garner neighborhoods and businesses.
If the state Department of Transportation ultimately chooses to build the red route, Dollar said, he would file legislation to stop the highway altogether.
Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, questioned how Republicans who repeatedly call for cutting waste could back a bill that calls for spending $12 million to $15 million on a road that will never be built. He praised the 2011 law, saying Garner was able to attract company relocations and expansions after the specter of the red route was removed.
"Let's not waste this money. Let's figure out a different alternative," Jackson said.
Rep. William Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, blamed the federal government for forcing the state to study the red route, but he said the bill needs to be passed so construction on N.C. 540 can proceed.
"You build what you can get funded, not what you need," Brawley said.
DOT officials said they expect the red route study, which will be paid for by the federal government, to take 12 to 24 months.