Western Wake County will likely be at the vanguard of any economic recovery in the coming year, and 2012 was all about preparing for a new wave of development.
Throughout the year, the biggest stories were about the return of growth as developers and businesses looked to expand, and towns braced themselves for an influx of residents and construction.
While hundreds of homes and a slate of shopping centers got under way, Cary and Morrisville overwhelmingly approved tax-hike-funded bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements and parks.
Change brought some conflict too many people were irritated by the impending redevelopment of the popular Galaxy Cinema.
As the year ends, the entire countrys looking to the fiscal negotiations in Washington D.C., and wondering about the fate of a recovery. And in western Wake, governments and most residents are hoping to hold on to the green shoots of new growth, even with the challenges it brings.
Here are highlights of some of the biggest local stories of 2012:Major highway links western Wake
Towns on the southwest edge of Wake County prepared for a residential building boom as a major new highway snaked to Apex and then to Holly Springs this year.
The six-lane Triangle Expressway now runs 18.8 miles, offering western Wake residents the option to get to Research Triangle Park fast as long as theyre willing to pay the tolls.
The works not done yet, though. The coming year should bring lively debate about the path the next phase of the highway would take from Holly Springs to I-40 near Garner.Towns invest in infrastructure
Local towns proved that some folks dont mind tax increases. In Morrisville and Cary, November referendums to approve debt spending and new taxes passed with the approval of 70 to 80 percent of Election Day voters.
In Morrisville, $20 million of bonds will fund a bypass of N.C. 54 and upgrades to the Morrisville Aquatics and Fitness Center and Morrisville Community Park. Carys $80 million of bonds will be split between dozens of road and transportation projects, parks and a new fire station.
Both towns bonds came with potential tax increases of up to 4 cents per $100 of property valuation. The end of the Galaxy
News of plans to demolish the Galaxy Cinema pained local cinephiles, who pleaded and plotted to avoid demolition of the artsy movie theater.
It wasnt enough, though: The Galaxy shut its doors in November. In the coming year, Harris Teeter will likely move forward with construction of a grocery store in place of the old theater and a neighboring office building.
Supporters of the Galaxy, meanwhile, will be looking for a new home for indie, foreign and Bollywood films.Downtown boosted
Cary pushed forward with its multi-million dollar plan to revitalize downtown.
This years efforts were focused on the arts, and the town broke ground on The Cary, a $6 million performance venue.
Private investors also stepped up, making deals to put a new Larrys Beans coffee house and a boutique hotel on land the town bought.
Town leaders also hashed out plans for a large downtown park, which may also host private development and a new library.Growth revives
Builders returned to western Wake County towns, putting up hundreds of homes from Morrisville to Fuquay-Varina. That swath of towns saw 35 percent more home starts in the years second quarter than it did a year before, a sharper increase than the Triangle on average.
Among the new projects were early plans for a large-scale in-fill development that could put almost 400 homes near Cary Towne Center. Cary also saw expansion in its computer and biomedical businesses, including the announcement of a six-story tower at SAS Institute and construction of a 190,000-square-foot expansion at BiogenIdec.School bus woes
For weeks, Apex families and others were at the center of one of Wake County schools biggest debacles: transportation budget cuts.
Hundreds of Apex students were left taking late or overcrowded bus, after the school district took 52 buses off the road in order to save money.
Parents flooded the school districts phones with complaints about late school starts, missed buses and lost drivers. Apex was the only transportation district in the county with combined routes, where students who attended different schools were transported on the same buses. Amid the complaints, Wake put back most of the previously sidelined buses.Wake Tech expands
Morrisville learned it will soon be home to a Wake Technical Community College campus, thanks to $200 million in bonds voters approved in November.
Construction of a 94-acre campus near Interstate 40 is expected to start in 2015.
The campus will serve up to 7,000 students and feature education programs geared toward jobs at high-tech companies in Research Triangle Park.
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