RALEIGH — Hundreds flocked to the first public meeting hosted by the N.C. Department of Transportation to gather information and provide feedback on the completion of the 540 outer loop. A sizable group came to the meeting just southwest of Garner to voice displeasure with the Red Route.
About 825 people signed in for the meeting; with people who attended but didn’t sign in, consultants estimated more than 1,000 filtered through. And support seemed stacked for one southern Wake County route.
“A majority, and by majority, probably 90 percent, said it needs to be the Orange corridor,” said Doug Wheatley of H.W. Lochner, which has been contracted to plan and design the project. “All the towns in the area have come out in support of the Orange. It’s pretty unanimous.”
N.C. DOT had personnel on hand to answer questions, along with various maps and charts outlining the 17 different possible route combinations from Apex to Knightdale. A video presentation played on loop while residents in another space pored over detailed maps trying to figure out how routes might affect their property.
N.C. DOT held similar meetings Tuesday at Barwell Community Center in Southeast Raleigh and on Wednesday at Holly Springs High School.
Bill Spence and his family own about 18 acres of land just south of Timber Drive Elementary off Thompson Road. That land, which he said has been in the family for about 100 years, falls within the Red Route. Spence said he had considered developing the land into housing, but those plans were impossible with the Red Route in play.
“Our problem is you can’t sell or build on property right now. The market is stalemated. The government has us held hostage so we cannot sell our property,” Spence said at the Wake Tech meeting. “What idiot would buy it?”
Wheatley said about a third of the comments came from people opposed to the Red Route. Much of the rest came from people concerned about other routes – Purple, Blue and Lilac in particular. Comments from Orange-area homeowners have been scarce.
“There are a few, but it’s been around so long they don’t tend to voice their opinion as much as those in the new corridors,” Wheatley said.
The Federal Highway Administration forced North Carolina to overturn the 2011 state law banning study of the Red Route or forfeit federal funding for the project, leading to its repeal last summer. The Army Corps of Engineers complained that not studying routes other than the Orange Route prevented it from meeting its legal requirement to ensure that minimizing wetlands impact had been closely examined.
Preliminary estimates indicate that the Red Route would reduce wetland impact; other alternatives appear more comparable to the impact of the Orange Route. Garner’s government and residents have argued that human impact outweighs any environmental differences, with subdivisions and an industrial park in any path north of Lake Benson.
To fulfill federal requirements (and to appease Garner, which didn’t want Red to be the only other route studied) the N.C. DOT will at least take a look at 17 choices. A route will not be officially chosen until fall 2015, according to plans. Construction would start in 2018.
State Rep. Nelson Dollar, who represents much of the path of the 540 loop west of Garner, attended the meeting and said the long-planned Orange Route should be built.
“When you look at these maps, the more detail you see, you see where land was left open for two decades,” Dollar said. “That’s the great irony. Local and state government is being punished for doing the right thing and planning ahead.”
About 325 people signed in at another meeting on Barwell Road, and most focused on routes east of I-40. No clear favorite emerged and most feedback hinged on how routes affected the commenter’s address, Wheatley said. He expected Holly Springs to split the difference between the first two in attendance and focus on the western Purple-Blue versus Orange split.
That would leave the Wake Tech meeting the best-attended in an area with several potential options. Sam Thompson said his family has also owned land in the Thompson Road area threatened by the Red Route, near Spence’s land, for about a century.
“You can put it in the paper: It ain’t going down Thompson Road,” Thompson said.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland