Bill bans Red Route, which Stevens says already hurts Garner

Development is stymied, he says

Staff WriterMarch 3, 2011 

It's not enough that state officials say they really, really don't want to build a toll road through the middle of Garner. Proposed legislation would forbid them to do so.

Sens. Richard Stevens of Cary and Dan Blue of Raleigh, whose districts include Garner, filed a bill this week to bar the N.C. Turnpike Authority from considering the so-called Red Route option for a Triangle Expressway extension across southern Wake County.

If the legislature agrees, the state will be left with one choice: the Orange Route, a path south of Garner marked on maps as the preferred route since the mid-1990s.

Stevens said his legislation would prevent the state from even studying the Red Route.

"We don't think the Red Route is a comparable line to the Orange Route," Stevens said Wednesday. "It's much more costly. It disrupts lives. It disrupts homes and businesses. And it disrupts the town.

"You've got people unable to sell their homes," he continued. "And you've got folks who are not willing to develop businesses in the area while it's being settled."

Turnpike officials said last week that they have no intention of building the Red Route. Jim Trogdon, chief operating officer of the state Department of Transportation, said in a letter to Garner that the state will not build the turnpike if environmental regulators insist on choosing the Red Route through Garner.

But Trogdon stopped short of making an ironclad promise, and Garner leaders said they wanted a stronger guarantee.

State and federal environmental agencies have asked the Turnpike Authority to continue studying the Red Route to compare it with the Orange Route - which would damage sensitive wetlands that provide habitat for an endangered mussel. That study could last until mid-2012.

David Joyner, the turnpike authority's executive director, said he wasn't sure how the legislation would affect the state's effort to comply with federal environmental laws as it develops the project.

"The process requires that we look at viable alternatives," Joyner said. Turnpike officials have said they hope to win approval to build theOrange Route. Federal agencies would likely require measures to limit wetlands damage.

Construction has begun on the western section of the Triangle Expressway.

The first leg of the toll road, from Interstate 40 through Research Triangle Park to N.C. 55, is expected to open late this year.

The next part, south from RTP to Holly Springs, is to open in late 2012.

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

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