Studying the Red route while having declared it verboten, finis, terminar - NC540 SE ext
By Peter Samuel
2013-03-31: Federal permitting of highway projects has reached new levels of absurdity in North Carolina. The Feds have suspended consideration of permits for the southeast extension of NC540 belt route unless North Carolina DOT reinstates studies of a 'Red Route' which by state law it is not allowed to do. Project planning for the southeast extension - a southside part of the 540 belt route around the NC capital - has been on hold for over two years now.
The project initiated by the NC Turnpike Authority since it is an extension of the Triangle Expressway. Since the Turnpike's extinction it is now NCDOT which also favors an alternative route. At issue is whether the belt route expressway in Wake County takes the shortest route through the town of Garner (the Red Route) or how it swings to the south (Orange route). There are also light blue (with a dark blue variant), plum, lilac and brown routes all of which are south of the main built-up area of metro Raleigh.
Turnpike officials have said they never favored the Red Route because it is the most disruptive of an established community and involves the taking of the most homes and would leave the town divided by the expressway. But all the alternates to the south are slightly longer and involve more bridging because of streams and wetlands.
People in Garner were so determined to ensure the expressway wasn't run through the middle of their area they got a ban on consideration of the Red Route written into state law in March 2011.
The public selection process seems to favor the Orange Route but it does require bridging through wetlands that are habitat for an 'endangered dwarf edge mussel.'
A US Army Corps letter to NCDOT said they as federal regulators would suspend consideration of the project under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) so long as the state refused to consider the banned Red Route. They wrote in a letter: "In the evaluation of alternatives, the Corps continues to believe that in regards to streams and wetlands, the (Red) Alternative appears to be a less environmentally damaging alternative and should be included as an alternative to be analyzed in the Draft Environmental Statement."
Now the McCrory administration in North Carolina is pushing for support for a new state law (HB10) that would reverse the 2011 ban on studying the Red Rote, while giving public assurances that it won't allow construction on that route.
SIDE THOUGHT: What the heck is a US Army Corps doing being deployed to meddle in local affairs of a peaceable US state. We have threats from a nuclear-armed Crazy in North Korea and hostile Zealots in Iran and the Middle East surely more deserving of US Army attention and resources that a little road routing tussle outside Raleigh. Isn't the US Army's role to defend the country? What's it doing defending dwarf edged mussels anyway?