Wake planners seek green light on 'red route' study for toll road

Posted December 12, 2012 4:15 p.m. EST
Updated December 13, 2012 5:22 a.m. EST

— Wake County officials voted Wednesday to ask state legislators to repeal a law that prohibits transportation planners from even studying a potential toll road path through Garner.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which coordinates area growth and transportation planning efforts, called on the General Assembly to scrap the 2011 law "at its earliest convenience."

The law blocked the state Department of Transportation from including the so-called "red route" in preliminary studies for the southeast extension of N.C. Highway 540. The route cuts through 13 Garner neighborhoods and the town's primary industrial recruitment area.

"I can't see why you'd take this law off the books if you're sensitive to economic development, and everybody in this room is," Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams told CAMPO members.

Williams noted that companies in the path of the red route have added 250 jobs and invested $50 million in the area since the law was enacted. Before that, he said, the mere threat of a highway cutting through the middle of Garner scared off business and prevented people from buying and selling homes near the proposed corridor.

Other local officials said, however, that federal officials forced their hand on the issue.

The Federal Highway Administration threatened to withdraw funding for plans to extend N.C. 540 because of the law. The highway would add to the Triangle Expressway toll road – currently under construction in southwest Wake County – and complete the loop highway around the county.

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, and federal officials wanted to compile statistics on the impact each possible route would have on homes, businesses and the environment.

"The feds have drawn a line in the sand," Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly said. "We need to get back in the queue for federal funding, or this project will never be built."

The Federal Highway Administration pays for about 80 percent of planning costs, but DOT officials couldn't estimate how much the state risks losing if the law remains in place.

The North Carolina Turnpike Authority has said it wouldn't use the red route, but Weatherly and others said the corridor needs to be studied so the highway can get federal funding and be built.

"At the end of the day, if we can't get something fixed in some fashion, we can't not do the Outer Loop," Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen said.