Over protest from Garner’s mayor, a planning board of Wake County area mayors voted Wednesday to seek repeal of a state law that bars the N.C. Department of Transportation from studying the unpopular Red Route through Garner for a six-lane toll road across southern Wake County.
The vote came a few days after federal regulators said they would not consider the state’s favored Orange Route – which would hurt sensitive wetlands and an endangered stream mussel – until the state drops its ban and allows a full study comparing both alternative routes for the Triangle Expressway.
Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams worried that dropping the ban and letting engineers study the Red Route would upset residents and hurt businesses in the town.
But the mayors of Holly Springs, Apex and Fuquay-Varina – his neighbors in southern Wake who once supported the state ban – argued that now it would cause more harm. They said it would kill prospects for extending TriEx and the 540 Outer Loop from Holly Springs to Interstate 40 near Garner.
“Sounds to me like it’s a hindrance,” said John Byrne, the Fuquay-Varina mayor.
Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly said state and local leaders share Garner’s concerns about the Red Route. The best way to eliminate it as an option is to allow a full study, he said, as sought by the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“It’s clear to me the feds have drawn a line in the sand,” Weatherly said. “They’re going to study this Red Route, or there will not be a completion of the Outer Loop. They hold all the cards, all the leverage.”
Weatherly acknowledged that Garner has secured new economic development projects worth $15 million, with 270 new jobs, since the legislature outlawed consideration of the Red Route in 2011.
“But when 540 is built, you’re going to see an explosion of economic development opportunity that makes this small potatoes,” Weatherly told Williams. “So you’re going to have to go through that short-term pain of letting the feds study this.”
The debate took place at a meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, a board of mayors and other local elected leaders that sets transportation priorities for Wake and parts of neighboring counties. The board had supported the Red Route ban when the state legislature approved it in early 2011.
Joe Bryan, the Wake County commissioners chairman, sided with Williams and criticized the federal regulators.
“They’re the ones that in fact are delaying economic development,” Bryan said. “An agency is piling regulation after regulation on top of communities, and they’re the ones that are costing America’s future progress.”
In a voice vote, the CAMPO board agreed to seek repeal of the Red Route ban law. At Williams’ request, the board also agreed to recommend that DOT add other routes to its study, along with the Orange and Red routes. They include color-coded Blue, Purple, Teal and Lilac options that would provide alternate paths for TriEx.
The legislation to ban the Red Route was championed by former state Sen. Richard Stevens of Cary. His district was later redrawn so that his successor, Tamara Barringer of Cary, no longer represents Garner. Her district still includes Apex, Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina.
Barringer and Garner’s new senator-elect, Chad Barefoot of Rolesville, could not be reached for comment.
Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/