Too many loopy options will freeze real estate in 540's final path

December 18, 2013 

The last stage of the 540 Outer Loop is supposed to make the highway go in a circle. Instead, it’s the planning that’s going round and round.

The road’s path across eastern and southern Wake County has been discussed for over 20 years, but the state Department of Transportation now says all that talk has, in effect, gone nowhere. DOT announced Tuesday that it will spend the next two years studying 17 possible routes for completing the highway.

The lack of progress is frustrating, and the effect of putting all options back in play will create serious problems for homeowners and land owners in areas crossed by one of the options. So long as the final path of the road is unknown, any real estate that could be affected is in limbo.

Who can sell a house if they can’t assure a buyer that they won’t be living next to a highway? Some commercial properties will be enhanced by proximity to the Outer Loop, but which ones? What is their actual value?

Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears is flabbergasted that the state wants to study 17 paths. He and the mayors of Garner and Fuquay-Varina, the towns most affected by the road, favor the so-called “orange route.” Some of the other options won’t happen because of strong local opposition, he said.

“Why can’t they start dropping routes that make no sense now?,” Sears asks. Some pruning would at least take some homes and property out of the highway’s potential path.

Sears, Holly Springs’ mayor for 12 years and a member of an advisory committee for the highway’s path, says making people in the area wait for more reviews is unfair to property owners. He says, “People are unable to buy, unable to sell. Waiting two years for an answer to this is not acceptable. Period.”

DOT officials seem inclined to do the full review to satisfy federal highway officials and head off possible suits over environmental damage. But there has to be a better way of determining where the road will go.

DOT should narrow and rank the likely paths. If the state feels compelled to do the broader study to satisfy federal highway officials, it’s time for the state’s congressional delegation to press for a simpler approach.

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