Another snag in the road project near White Oak Crossing has the town scurrying for federal authorization by Sept. 30. If the town’s effort fails, Garner risks losing federal funding and pushes the conclusion of that project and a huge planned commercial development effort well into 2015.
At its Aug. 20 meeting, the town council directed staff to proceed with plans for above-ground power-lines. Planning director Brad Bass said he filed all paperwork for final state and federal approval Monday, and if neither the Federal Highway Authority or the state Department of Transportation find problems, the deadline should be achievable.
“I really don’t believe there’s any reason (it wouldn’t go through), but I can’t speak to DOT and their review or FHWA,” Bass said. “We’re going to give them all the information they requested and go over content and make sure it meets all of their requirements.”
The above-ground power lines have to be moved for road widening at the confluence of I-40, U.S. 70 and White Oak Road, and the town had presented developer Core Properties the option of paying to bury them for aesthetics. Duke Energy informed the town and Core on Aug. 15 that it could not estimate costs because of planned grading changes, or do the work before the ground was re-leveled.
In that Aug. 15 email, Timothy Sauls of Duke Energy said the ground must be at final grade to “ensure that no other contractors or utilities come in contact with our underground feeder and we maintain proper depths for safety and reliability.”
In short, that created a chicken-or-the-egg scenario; Core wanted Duke to provide the estimates and it wants the road to have a timeline before Core begins the development process, but Duke needs development before it did so. So the town put off the question of burying the power lines to get road work – and the overall process – moving.
“(Core is) lagging where we are. That’s really what the bottom line is,” Bass said. Regarding whether lines could buried later in the process, he said: “The conversation could continue. It’s going to be a matter of timing and what it would take cost-wise and schedule-wise to see what would work.”
Bass said the town asked Core about putting the lines underground in April, and in July they responded with interest in doing so. Richard Barta, who owns and operates the Charlotte-based development company, said Core didn’t want to interfere with Garner’s funding or timeline. He also wants to avoid moving the lines twice.
“We’re mindful of Garner’s want and need because it’s a shared want and need,” Barta said. “We also want to work really hard to make sure we don’t have redundant work.”
Sept. 30 marks the end of the 2013 federal fiscal year. If FHWA approval doesn’t come by Sept. 30, the $2.6 million in federal funds pledged to the $5.2 million project would revert to a funding pot for the 2014 fiscal year. Garner would have to reapply for the funding in mid-October at the earliest, competing with other projects.
“The calendar is starting to give us some concern,” Bass told the council.
If it received 2014 funding, the new timeline likely wouldn’t allow paving to be completed before the end of the fall paving season. Paving in winter isn’t permitted by DOT, so completion could move to at least spring of 2015. Barta doesn’t want to open a large new retail center amid road construction, so the development’s planned completion would also be pushed back.
Core’s development will reach the $70 million to $80 million range, according to Garner economic development director Tony Beasley.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @GarnerCleveland