Lawmakers struggle with Red Route repeal

kjahner@newsobserver.comMay 5, 2013 

One way or another, legislators tell Garner, they will soon strike the 2011 law banning study of the Red Route so the process of choosing a path for southern Interstate 540 can begin in earnest.

They just haven’t figured out how they’re going to do it yet, despite introducing the original repeal on Jan. 31.

House Bill 10, designed to lift the ban, stalled after the Senate tacked on items the House didn’t want. In the meantime, House members included language in a separate transportation-funding bill – House Bill 817 – that would also lift the ban.

Garner economic-development director Tony Beasley said at least one should pass before the legislative session ends.

“I was told point blank yesterday, before they leave, either H.B. 10 or this would be passed to allow study of 540,” Beasley said at Tuesday’s town council meeting.

The amendment to H.B. 817 doesn’t contain certain provisions the town had requested. In H.B. 10, legislators included provisions requiring the Department of Transportation to “strive to expedite the federal environmental impact statement process” and dictating legislative oversight of the process.

Beasley said he would continue speaking with lawmakers in an effort to make sure a grease-the-wheels provision is included in any legislation.

“If for whatever reason H.B. 10 doesn’t come back to the floor, there were some things we wanted to see brought back into the appropriations bill,” Beasley said. “We don’t know if it’s appropriate for this kind of language to go into HB 817.”

H.B. 10 jumped off the fast track when Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, added an amendment that would move essentially end three major turnpike projects in other counties, The House balked, and while a four-person conference committee could reconcile the bill, there’s no guarantee.

H.B. 817 also strikes the three projects – Garden Parkway, Cape Fear Skyway and a bridge to the Currituck County Outer Banks – from the jurisdiction of the N.C. Turnpike Authority.

Most doubt the state would ever build the Red Route. But the mere possibility of I-540 splitting 13 Garner subdivisions and an industrial park has hampered development in town and could do so until another route is formally chosen, Garner leaders say.

Study of the Red Route became necessary when federal highway agencies refused to approve the preferred Orange Route without a comparative study. The Army Corps of Engineers said federal law required study of at least one route going through fewer wetlands than the Orange Route. That effectively required a route north of Lake Benson through the town of Garner.

The full study and decision-making process could take around 18 months, even if it’s rushed.

Jahner: 919-829-4822

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