GARNER — It’s just a harmless serpentine red line on a map, a proposed route for the N.C. Turnpike Authority’s southern leg of the Triangle Expressway, but to Garner it’s poisonous.
But after the federal government declared it won’t help build the highway without it, Garner leaders realize they cannot kill the proposal and now merely hope to accelerate a study that they think will determine what they already know: The Red Route makes no sense.
Residents at a Town Council meeting last week fumed over what they perceived as a lack of logic in the process, from the initial drawing of the route to federal insistence on its study.
“Our enemy is the Turnpike Authority,” Mayor Ronnie Williams said. “Someone on their way to a bathroom break took a red marker on a map and said ‘That looks like it’d be a good route.’ ”
Williams himself lives on a modified version of the Red Route, which would carve through 13 neighborhoods and a business park and put real estate development in limbo. Town residents and state officials favor a more southerly route, known as the Orange.
Many outside Garner agreed that Red made no sense, enough for the state to pass a law in early 2011 banning its study. But that left only Orange – the state’s plan for two decades – and it would hurt sensitive wetlands.
Federal agencies insist the state review all “reasonable alternatives” to the Orange Route. A Dec. 7 letter from the Federal Highway Authority announced federal funding would be pulled unless an Environmental Impact Study is done for both the Red and Orange routes, and on Dec. 12, Wake mayors – Williams dissenting – voted to seek repeal of the roadblock law.
Even if the state law is lifted quickly, a final decision on a route might not be made until late 2014, leaving Garner with continued uncertainty.
Though town leaders broached the idea of a lawsuit last week, discussion clearly has shifted from preventing study of the route to getting it done quickly.
“It looks like it’s inevitable that this law is going to be repealed,” said Garner Town Manager Hardin Watkins. “I’m trying to work with (state and local transit) staff to make sure we can move things along as fast as we can.”
A threat to business?
No one seems to expect the Red Route to be built, so no literal damage may ever be done.
But don’t tell that to Paul Capps or Leah Isadore of Fonville Morisey Realty, Garner’s leading real estate group.
Local leaders have argued that hesitant businesses have moved into Garner only after the state law banning the Red Route passed, and the real estate professionals say they’ve seen it.
“We know from a real estate standpoint how it affected us,” Isadore said.
When state highway officials first narrowed their choices to the Red and Orange routes, buyers became wary and construction came to a halt in the Village at Aversboro subdivision, Capps said. The Red Route would plow right through the development’s clubhouse.
After the state barred consideration of the Red Route, sales picked up again – 35 since October 2011, he said. When the federal government pushed to revive the route again earlier this month, Capps said his company lost two sales.
“The Red Route makes no sense,” he said. “Why is it even being considered?”