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Senate puts up roadblock to possible highway through Garner

Posted March 10, 2011 10:42 a.m. EST
Updated March 10, 2011 11:46 a.m. EST

— The state Senate voted unanimously Thursday to block transportation officials from considering a controversial route through Garner for an extension of the Triangle Expressway.

Senate Bill 165 was sent to the House, where Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, said it could be voted on next week.

"This is a road that needs to stop, and (the state Department of Transportation) needs to be told today that it should stop and will stop," Stevens said.

The North Carolina Turnpike Authority is selecting a path to complete N.C. Highway 540 in southeastern Wake County. A final decision isn't expected until late 2013.

The authority in November recommended that the so-called "red route" not be used because of the adverse affect it would have on 13 neighborhoods, a church and the town’s primary industrial recruitment area.

Federal transportation officials said, however, that the route must remain under consideration because an endangered species of mussels had been discovered in a creek along the original planned expansion area, known as the "orange route."

The state DOT has pledged to Garner officials that, if federal highway officials select the red route for the highway, the state won't build it. But lawmakers wanted to ensure that the route was off the table.

Stevens noted that it has taken decades for Garner to recover after being split in two by U.S. Highway 70, and homeowners and businesses don't need the threat hanging over them of another highway cutting through the town.

Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, said the legislation would stop DOT from spending $500,000 to study a route that it has no intention of using for a highway.

Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, a former DOT board member, noted that the Army Corps of Engineers requires that at least two proposed routes be studied before it will issue an environmental permit to allow highway construction to begin.

State transportation officials have said the elimination of one route could jeopardize the entire N.C. 540 extension, but Stevens said other routes have been proposed and could be considered.

The southeast portion of N.C. 540 would extend the Triangle Expressway – currently under construction in southwest Wake County – and complete the loop highway around Raleigh. Construction could begin as early as 2018.