Last week, the state legislature passed a bill to remove the 2011 Red Route ban. Sort of.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 10 Wednesday, but the last part of the brief bill stipulates that it only becomes law when a larger transportation bill does. The town expects – and hopes – that bill will pass soon.
HB 10 repeals a ban on studies of the so-called Red Route, a proposed section of the planned southern portion of I-540 around Raleigh.
Garner leaders are opposed to the Red Route because it would split 13 residential subdivisions and an industrial park in Garner.
The ban, instituted in 2010, seemed to kill that option. But federal officials who control the money for the project, insisted that at least one alternative to the favored Orange Route, must be studied before it would approve any spending.
That left Garner leaders and members of the General Assembly scrambling to undo the study ban.
Though local and state officials thought that would be a simple process, they soon got caught up in some political wrangling.
The Senate derailed House Bill 10, which first passed in January, when it added language striking certain projects from state law in an attempt to de-politicize the process of prioritizing road projects. The House balked at those changes, leaving the bill – and Garner – in limbo.
Over a month ago, House leaders moved virtually the same language into a broader transportation funding bill – House Bill 817 – and the debate over the issue continued. That bill was sent to the Senate May 13, where itand has been tinkered with over the last month. H.B. 10 was later amended to remove the complicating language, leaving it a bare-bones – but now conditional – strike-down of the Red Route study ban. It was passed by the legislature last week before being sent to McCrory.
“I think they’re to the point where they’re ready to get this thing moved on out and getting it done,” said Garner Economic Development Director Tony Beasley, who’s been tracking the proceedings and talking with lawmakers. “I’m looking forward to getting some closure in place so we can go start studying this Red Route.”
If and when H.B. 817 passes, H.B. 10 automatically becomes law, and would then be sent to federal agencies to show that the ban had been repealed.
What’s the fuss?
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 Garner.
The Town of Garner wants the study to move quickly if it has to happen, minimizing any uncertainty over the toll road’s path. But while the repeal was among the first bills proposed this year, the jockeying over other issues pushed it off the fast track. Now a bill that does nothing but allow the Red Route study needs a broader, largely unrelated bill to pass first.
“I can’t really explain that, it’s part of the politics of it all,” Beasley said. “It could have (just passed on its own), but it got tied up in that battle. They thought they’d solve it quickly and briefly then, and it didn’t happen.”