Raleigh, N.C. — A bill that will clear the way for federal funding of the N.C. Highway 540 loop around Raleigh has emerged from negotiations between the House and Senate.
House Bill 10 involves one potential route for the highway, known as the "red route," which would go through Garner. Town officials, economic developers and residents have vocally opposed the route, saying it would stifle new business growth.
In 2011, opposition to the red route grew so loud that lawmakers blocked state transportation officials from even studying it. But that prohibition conflicts with federal highway funding rules and would trigger the government to cut off funding for the highway.
The pending bill repeals the prohibition on studying the route. Top lawmakers say the route will never be built, but it must be studied in order to draw down federal funding.
In the Senate, lawmakers added language that dealt with how three other highway projects might be funded. Those other projects – the Mid-Currituck Bridge, the Garden Parkway in Gaston County and the Cape Fear Skyway – have been the subject of conflicts between the House and Senate.
House members refused to concur with those changes, and the measure was sent to a conference committee, a small group of negotiators representing the House and Senate. Those negotiators reported a compromise bill Wednesday.
The compromise strips direct mention of the outside projects from the bill. However, it does require the legislature to pass Gov. Pat McCrory's plan for changing how transportation projects are funded before the red route can be studied. Indirectly, McCrory's transportation plan would funnel more funding to the three projects in question.
House Bill 10 also adds more oversight of the red route study, requiring "the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee shall closely monitor the progress of the Southeast Extension of the Triangle Expressway Turnpike Project."
Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, one of eight lawmakers who helped negotiate the compromise bill, said the extra legislative oversight should give residents in Garner assurance that lawmakers are keeping an eye on the study and would not allow the route to be built.
"I'm against the repeal and have tried to stand up for Garner," Barefoot said, emphasizing that he would vote against the bill. Others, he said, have argued that, because the route would never be built, the state should just hurry up and do the study.
The state Senate is likely to approve the measure on Thursday. The state House will take up the bill next Monday.