Raleigh, N.C. — Plans to finish the N.C. Highway 540 outer loop around Raleigh are back on track, and so is the debate and controversy that has dogged the project for years.
Study resumed earlier this month on the project, dubbed "Complete 540," and the North Carolina Department of Transportation is holding a series of public meetings to determine the best options for connecting the final section of the outer loop, south of the city of Raleigh, from Holly Springs to Knightdale.
Officials reached out this week to the 52,000 residents in the study area to ask for their input on the 17 possible routes for the highway.
Those in the Turner Farm area south of Garner said the "lilac route" would drastically change their community.
"I don't see any advantages of it coming through here," said Kevin Wertz, who said the lilac route would run directly through a strip of woods on his property. "That would just be horrible. It would be a bad deal."
Terry Gibson, a chief engineer with NCDOT, said federal law requires that officials study every possible route – taking the number of homes, businesses and environmental impacts into consideration – before making a decision.
"Every one of these routes represents neighborhoods and businesses and homes that are impacted," Gibson said. "We are only choosing one, so the people that are concerned right now (might) never be impacted by this project."
Complete 540 was sidelined in 2011 over concerns about a potential route for the highway called the “red route,” which would go through Garner. Town officials, economic developers and residents opposed the route, saying it would stifle new business growth.
Opposition to the red route grew so loud that lawmakers blocked state transportation officials from even studying it. That prohibition put the state in violation of the federal law requiring an environmental impact study. In turn, federal funding stopped, essentially bringing the project to a halt.
But lawmakers in May approved changes to allow the red route to be studied, although they vowed it would never be built.
State transportation Secretary Tony Tata said the department can now complete all the environmental studies needed to get the project going. It will take about a year to finish the studies, and no funding has been set aside yet.
Groundbreaking wouldn’t happen before 2018, officials said.
The public is invited to offer input at three public meetings:
4 to 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14
Wake Tech Community College
9101 Fayetteville Road
4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15
Barwell Road Community Center
3935 Barwell Road
6 to 9 p.m.Wednesday, Oct. 16
Holly Springs High School
5329 Cass Holt Road