HOLLY SPRINGS — This cafeteria hosts its share of angst-ridden visitors, but they’re not usually this old.
Realtor Francesca Mahoney was one of dozens of residents who leaned over a cafeteria table at Holly Springs High School on Wednesday to listen to N.C. Department of Transportation representatives explain the possible effects of several Interstate 540 extension options.
Mahoney is concerned some of her most recent clients would live within the Purple Route, which would cut through Sunset Oaks, Holly Springs’ third-largest neighborhood.
“I just put them in new construction in July,” she said. “I’ve had lots of calls.”
The three-hour event was the third and final public meeting hosted by the N.C. DOT to collect input on 17 proposed route combinations for extending the I-540 Outer Loop from Holly Springs to Knightdale. Combined, the meetings drew more than 1,600.
About 545 people met in Holly Springs, where two options – the Orange Route and the Purple Route – have the town’s attention. Most said they favored the Orange Route, which would affect fewer homes and businesses in the area.
The Orange Route runs parallel to Ten-Ten Road north of Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina and is the shorter of the two options.
The Purple Route branches south off the Orange Route down Pierce-Olive Road and connects to the Blue Route at U.S. 401 after crossing Hilltop Needmore and Johnson Pond roads.
Many people at Wednesday’s meeting said they were unaware the Purple Route is under consideration. The Orange Route was identified as a likely option in the mid-1990s, so property owners and town staffs planned around it.
The Purple Route emerged after federal regulators instructed the N.C. DOT to study additional I-540 extension options that would have less of an environmental impact.
Eric Midkiff, head of project development for the N.C. DOT, said preliminary studies show the Purple Route would affect 46 acres of wetlands, while the Orange Route would affect 80 acres of wetlands.
But the Purple Route would affect 350 homes and businesses throughout southern Wake County – about 30 more than the Orange Route.
“The wetlands are important, but not as important as the people who live here,” said Barbara Flodin, who looked at a map with her husband, Andy. They live in the Wescott subdivision, between the Orange and Purple routes.
The Holly Springs Town Council endorsed the Orange Route earlier this month, partly because the Purple Route would displace dozens of homes in Sunset Oaks. That’s where Lauren Worsham moved in July with her husband and two children. “We just moved away from the Red Route in Garner,” she said, referring to a route that would cut through that town. “It’s like we can’t get away from it.”
As Worsham filled out an N.C. DOT comment form in a corner of the cafeteria, Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears and Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams walked by. Worsham introduced herself, and Sears tried to reassure her that the state couldn’t conceivably build the Purple Route.
Still, voicing her opinion and hearing plans didn’t make her feel comfortable. “At least it gives me a good understanding of where they’re coming from,” she said.
Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht