RALEIGH — Without dissent Tuesday, a House committee endorsed a bill to allow study of the unpopular Red Route option for extending the 540 Outer Loop across southern Wake County, even though that path would mean bulldozing parks and neighborhoods in Garner.
Garner residents persuaded the General Assembly in 2011 to enact an unusual ban that has prevented the state Department of Transportation from studying the Red Route. Local leaders favor the Orange Route through less populous areas south of Garner, which has been marked on planning maps for the past two decades.
But the Orange Route would trample sensitive wetlands that are home to an endangered mollusk, and federal environmental regulators wont consider it without a full study that compares it to the Red Route.
The federal government is ordering us to study the Red Route or else they will not approve anything else, Rep. Paul Stam, a Republican from Apex who co-sponsored the bill, told the House Transportation Committee. The Red Route is impractical, to put it mildly. But if we dont study it, we cant move forward.
The proposed six-lane highway would be built as a toll road, extending the Triangle Expressway from Holly Springs east to Interstate 40 near Johnston County. Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Republican from Cary and another sponsor of the Red Route bill, said Wake County officials made the right decision when they endorsed the Orange Route years ago.
They were all planning on that road going a certain route, Dollar said. And of course because we were planning ahead, the federal government punishes us.
Dollar said the Red Route will never be built, even if it is the only option federal regulators allow, because it would harm too many homes and parks.
It wouldnt make sense financially, Dollar said. It is simply not a buildable route. The folks in Garner should not feel threatened.
Sen. Chad Barefoot of Wake Forest, who represents Garner, has said hell vote against the bill in the Senate. Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams told the committee he still opposes it, but in an interview he said he believes it will clear both houses easily.
The full study comparing both routes is expected to take 12 to 24 months, at a cost of $12 million to $15 million in federal planning money.
Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/