'Red route' highway hits legislative red light

Posted March 17, 2011 1:39 p.m. EDT

— State lawmakers have overwhelmingly voted to block the state Department of Transportation from considering a controversial highway route through Garner.

After the Senate voted unanimously last week to pull the so-called "red route" off the table for the southeast extension of N.C. Highway 540, the House voted 115-1 on the measure Thursday. The legislation now goes to Gov. Beverly Perdue to be signed into law.

The North Carolina Turnpike Authority recommended in November that the 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.

Still, the DOT must continue to study the option, officials said, because 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.

Although the DOT has pledged to Garner officials that the highway wouldn't be built if federal highway officials select the red route for it, the town lobbied for a state law forbidding any consideration of the route. They said the threat of a highway coming through the middle of town was scaring off business and preventing people from buying and selling homes near the route.

DOT officials have said the legislation effectively prevents them from completing the N.C. 540 loop around Wake County.

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