Alternative routes for 540 worry residents

State unveils new ideas

Staff WriterSeptember 26, 2010 

— The N.C. Turnpike Authority has new ideas about where to build the southeastern leg of the 540 Outer Loop - but a lot of people in southern Wake County would rather stick with the old idea.

Commercial road maps show a corridor set aside in the mid-1990s to block new development in the preferred path of a 12-mile expressway from N.C. 55 at Holly Springs to Interstate 40 south of Garner. Subdivisions and shopping centers have since sprouted on both sides of that protected swath, especially south of it.

At public meetings last week, the Turnpike Authority portrayed the 15-year-old path as an orange band across gray wall maps.

And there were new options, too.

A red band marked an alternative that would run the expressway farther north - running just north of Lake Benson and splitting the town of Garner. Blue and purple bands showed two options for pushing the expressway farther south, bulldozing through Holly Springs neighborhoods and running closer to Fuquay-Varina before turning east toward I-40.

"This has been the plan for 15 years, and that's why I didn't build my house near there," Tim Vella said, pointing to the orange band Wednesday in the Holly Springs High School cafeteria.

Then he pointed to the purple and blue bands near his home in the Sunset Oaks neighborhood, east of Holly Springs and south of the orange line.

"Those were never proposed until last Thursday" when the Turnpike Authority unveiled the new options in a newsletter, Vella said. "We're all transplants, and we love it down here. We love hearing the frogs and everything - as opposed to hearing the hum of tires on a new road."

While construction continues on the Triangle Expressway through Research Triangle Park and western Wake, turnpike authority officials are planning a 30-mile southeastern extension that would link Holly Springs, Garner and Knightdale. Their environmental study also will consider scrapping the expressway and, instead, doubling the size of I-40 and I-440 to handle traffic growth.

"We're obligated under law to look at any reasonable routes and alternatives," said Steve DeWitt, the turnpike agency's chief engineer.

The route through Garner would be shorter, possibly cutting construction costs, but it might hurt wetlands near Lake Benson. The other new options would bring the expressway closer to new residents farther south, but they would involve more miles of construction costs.

Southern Wake mayors agreed that each of the new routes almost surely would dislocate more homes and commercial property than the path proposed by the state Department of Transportation in the mid-90s.

"I'm fine with where the map is now," Fuquay-Varina Mayor John Byrne said Friday. "I think when you have a map out there for 15 years, people know where it's going to be."

Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears said the proposed blue route would plow through neighborhoods, run over Bass Lake, and wipe out a bank and shopping center.

"We're not in love with that one," Sears said.

Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said local residents were shocked by the proposed red route. "I've got people in Garner who are claiming their backyard is going to be taken," Williams said. "An effort will be made to get it back farther south."

DeWitt said the turnpike authority probably will decide on a route by 2012. Sears and other officials said they would lobby to have the unpopular new options disqualified sooner than that.

Vella said he and his neighbors don't want to wait too long for the agency to cancel the purple route near their homes.

"Maybe they will eliminate it eventually," he said. "But there's just no justification for giving everyone down here an ulcer for the next two years."

bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4527

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service