Garner keeps up the fight against I-540 Red Route

kjahner@newsobserver.comAugust 8, 2012 

— The Garner Town Council is frustrated that a proposed plan to build Interstate 540 through town won’t die.

Even though a state law passed last year bans study of the route, federal agencies say they have to look into any option that doesn’t go through a large watershed. And the Garner route – also known as the Red Route – does not.

“I just don’t want the public to get upset because the Red Route is being considered again,” said Mayor Ronnie Williams. “The effort is being made to eliminate it.”

At a special session this week, council members heard from a Washington consulting firm hired to navigate federal agencies and advocate for Garner. Though town officials expressed some optimism, they remained a bit on edge.

“You can’t afford to say it out loud, but I tend to believe that every one of you would like to take out a giant eraser and take out the Red Route,” said council member Buck Kennedy.

Fred Skaer of Dawson & Associates, the consulting firm, said federal law requires study of alternatives and that setting up a study with a predetermined answer would not satisfy the law.

Lawsuits are likely wherever 540 goes. Skaer estimated one in three projects such as this end up in litigation. That makes public statements crucial in the case.

Each federal agency has a different task, Skaer said, and each has to weigh in before the Federal Highway Authority approves a project.

“It’s impossible to get 10 federal agents to agree on where to go to lunch,” said David Joyner, North Carolina’s Turnpike Authority director. “It’s a very complicated process.”

An Aug. 22 meeting has been set for Dawson and the state to make a case against the Red Route before several federal agencies. More should be known in the fall about whether federal authorities will back off their insistence to a study.

Dawson, to which the town is paying half of a $70,000 consulting bill, hopes new choices will satisfy demand for options.

Williams said he thinks that through the efforts of the town, consultants and state agencies, the Red Route will be eliminated by mid-October.

It was emphasized in the meeting that the project would not be undertaken without Garner support. Yet without crucial federal funds and approval to move forward on a southern route, the project could die altogether if an understanding isn’t reached.

“I don’t think the town of Garner has ever said we don’t want to see 540 built,” said Councilman Ken Marshburn. “We don’t want to see our town decimated in the process.”

Jahner: 919-500-6287

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