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Who's Going to be Affected by the I-540 Completion? Here's What Former I-540 Attorney, Jason Campbell Predicts...

One of our attorneys, Jason Campbell, was one of the two lead attorneys on the North Carolina Department of Transportation's I-540 project before he left to join our firm.

The NCDOT recently resumed studying how they might complete the I-540 Outerloop in Southern Wake County, and many residents, especially those in Garner and Holly Springs, are very concerned about how this may affect them. So Jason reviewed the DOT's plans and decided to publicly offer his insight.

He also gives some great advice on what property owners can do now if they will be affected.

Here's what Jason had to say...

The DOT held public hearings on October 14, 15, and 16 to discuss the possible alternative routes to extend I-540 through southern Wake County. I attended two of the hearings. They were well presented and well attended.

I worked for the North Carolina Attorney General for 13 years representing the Department of Transportation. From the very beginning of my tenure with the State, I was heavily involved in I-540.

I thought I would share my thoughts and perspective on the latest leg of I-540 with you.

First, these public hearings are an early step in a long process. If all goes according to plan, the DOT intends to start buying land in mid-2017.  It hopes the road will be completed in the spring of 2022.

ConstructionSite_06252014So, Where Are We Now?

The DOT has to get certain federal permits before it can buy land and build roads. The public hearings are an early part of that permitting process. The DOT has to evaluate and document the potential environmental impacts of the proposed new road. The environmental impacts that the DOT must consider are more than "frogs and bogs." While wetlands, streams and species protection play an important role in the DOT's permit, the DOT must also consider "noise, homes and businesses, historic and archeological resources, and natural resources."

In order to figure out how the new road will affect the physical and social environment, the DOT needs to design and plan the new road. But just like you cannot determine the desirability of a new car by looking at only one car, the DOT and Federal Government have to compare the proposed road to other proposed locations, in order to see which of the routes causes the least harm to the physical and social environment.

Consequently, the Federal Government requires the DOT to design and plan for three alternative roads. In this case, the DOT has designed and planned the Red Route, the Orange Route, and the Orange/Purple/Blue/Lilac [I kid you not] Route. These public hearings were designed to introduce the three routes and invite the public to comment on how each of the three routes would affect the physical and social environment area.

Which Route Does the DOT Prefer?

Technically, they have no preference yet. These public hearings were held to introduce the three routes. The DOT doesn't plan on having a formal preference for any one route until the fall of 2015.

Which route will the DOT prefer? I don't know. But, I can make some educated guesses. First, the Red Route will cut Garner in half arguably "destroying" the city. The route will cause the most people to move and cause the most destruction of existing property. It will also offer the least benefit running so close to I-40/440.

The Red Route is very unpopular. It is so unpopular, in fact, that the NC Legislature took notice and ordered the DOT to stop considering it. But, the Federal Government requires the State consider three alternative routes. Without the Red Route, the State was only considering two. So, it was impossible for the State to get the necessary permits to move forward with the project. The NC Legislature had to reverse itself and allow the Red Route to be considered. But members of the legislature assured the public that the Red Route would never be built. I will take their word for it.

That leaves the Orange Route and Orange/Purple/Blue/Lilac Route.

The Orange Route had been the DOT's preferred route since at least the 1990's. The DOT filed a map (The Map Act) at the Wake County Register of Deed (I believe in the early 1990's) showing this route, reserving this land for the future 540, and preventing landowners and developers from building on it without the DOT's permission. The DOT has also been buying the land for this route for the last decade including the land needed for the orange route's interchange with I-40. Consequently, I would not be surprised if this still will be the DOT's preferred route when they select one in 2015.

However, the Orange/Purple/Blue/Lilac Route is a serious contender. The DOT believes this route will harm the physical environment less than the Orange Route. However, this route will damage the social environment. It is going to cut through neighborhoods, including the 600-home Sunset Oaks neighborhood in Holly Springs.  But how the DOT weighs the various routes' impact on people and the physical environment is still uncertain. There is an endangered Dwarf Wedgemussel that will be impacted by either route, but  the Orange/Purple/Blue/Lilac Route, which has the least direct impact on the local streams, should harm the mussels less than the Orange Route. Only time and research will tell.

What to Do if You're Affected

My takeaway for you is the following. First, you should continue to protest the route you like least, even if it is the Red Route. At this early stage in the process, and with the added complication of an endangered species being affected by the project, you should not take anything for granted.

Second, this process is going to take a long time. The DOT's timeline does not include the probable delay caused by a lawsuit brought by an environmental group to challenge the permitting process. These groups have been successful in the past. They have forced the DOT to start over. If this happens, even if the DOT wins, the project could be delayed by a couple of years beyond its current forecast. And, finally, the project hasn't been funded yet.

While the delay can be painful to those affected, there are some limited remedies available. First, you can ask the DOT to buy your property early. Second, if you live under the Orange Route, you can request a building permit and if you're denied, you can wait three years, and then the DOT has to buy your land or release your property from its reservation.

Neither remedy is wholly adequate and I would strongly recommend that you contact an experienced eminent domain attorney before taking either of these steps, to ensure that you protect your rights and property.

If you live along the Orange Route and need to move or need immediate compensation for some other reason, you can call me to discuss the benefits of these strategies and how to try to maximize the value of your property.

If your property may be affected by the I-540 completion or another project, please contact the NC Eminent Domain Law Firm at 1-877-393-4990 for a free case evaluation.

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