GARNER — In March 2012, as the state and federal governments bickered over whether enough routes had been studied to complete the 540 route, Stephanie Hairr and her husband bought a home in the Hillington West subdivision in an unincorporated area near Garner.
Since then, federal demands have resulted in the repeal of a 2011 state law banning study of the Red Route. Garner’s request that the Department of Transportation study more than two routes from Apex to I-40 resulted in old paths revived and new ones drawn. One new one, the Lilac Route, would pave over the Hairrs’ home.
On Oct. 14, 15 and 16 NCDOT will host public meetings to inform and collect feedback on the process of completing the 540 project. NCDOT plans to narrow 17 possible combinations of 10 different colors to just one over the next two years in its effort to link Apex to Knightdale through southern and eastern Wake County.
That leaves a lot of houses under potential-highway ink, and owners with uncertain futures. Hairr was sent a map of the Lilac Route overlaying over her property.
“I emailed them back telling them how frustrated we are,” Hairr said. “We didn’t even know that this could even be a possibility (when we bought the house). I sent them an email to let them know they are going to have a fight on their hands.”
NCDOT can expect plenty of similar stories at the meetings, which will be held at Wake Tech Community College on U.S. 401 next Monday, the Barwell Road Community Center in Southeast Raleigh on Tuesday and at the Holly Springs High School Cafeteria on Wednesday.
NCDOT project development engineer Jennifer Harris said the meetings will both inform the public and provide NCDOT with feedback on the routes, and said she understands the difficulty for property owners.
“Obviously that’s an unfortunate part of the study process. We have to go through a rigorous development of what alternatives should be looked at, and go through another process to narrow that list down,” Harris said. “We are very interested in completing the study as fast as we can.”
Harris said the meetings will include representatives from NCDOT, consultants, plenty of maps and a comment form for feedback.
Apex to Knightdale
Despite the focus on the segment of the road from Apex eastward to I-40, the plan has always been to complete the entire path beyond I-40 to where 540 hits 264 in Knightdale in the next phase. Currently that schedule includes picking a route by fall 2015, as well as construction started by 2018. Work would be scheduled for completion in 2022.
Property owners on the Orange Route have been prohibited from building on their property without permission for a decade as the state protected the anticipatory route from costly development. No route east of I-40 has been protected, and anyone on any non-Orange routes has no restrictions on what can be built on their property.
Some routes may be eliminated quickly; how many and how soon, Harris couldn’t say. The Orange Route, preferred by NCDOT, will likely be studied through a detailed Environmental Impact Study, as will the Red Route. Demands by the Army Corp of Engineers, responsible to ensure steps are taken to avoid unnecessary wetlands damage, caused federal funding to be withdrawn over a law prohibiting its study.
That law was written in 2011 to protect Garner after furious town leaders vehemently protested as the Red Route – which carves through the meat of the town – remained in consideration along with the Orange Route.
Even on a preliminary glance, the routes differ substantially in key areas, such as length, relocation and wetland intrusion. R Routes range from 24 to 31 miles; the Garner-carving Red Route is the shortest route. The next shortest route is more than 26 miles long.
The Orange Route offers the least human impact; most other routes from Apex to I-40 force at least 60 percent more relocations. The Red Route offers the most, but the least wetland incursion. The Lilac alternatives, which steer south of Lake Benson like the Orange Route, offer less destruction of wetlands than the Orange, but displace nearly as many properties as the Red Route.
As NCDOT weighs options, homeowners like Hairr must wait. Hairr, 41, said she and her husband bought the home on Wrangler Court hoping to retire there. Though modest, she said it was their “dream home.”
“I would prefer that they find a route that doesn’t hurt a bunch of houses. If you go 2, 3 miles down the road there’s all farmland,” Hairr said. “Why can’t they go that way?”
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland