Road Worrier

Bit by bit, I-540 gets closer to coming full circle

Staff WriterOctober 31, 2006 

It looks as if the bulldozers are finished. So commuters are itching to know: When will the state Department of Transportation open new stretches of freeway at both ends of Interstate 540?

Most of it should be open by the end of the year, DOT says.

"We are making every effort," to open a nine-mile northeastern arc of Raleigh's I-540 Outer Loop by the end of December, DOT engineer Reese Briley said.

That part will extend I-540 from U.S. 1 in North Raleigh eastward to the new U.S. 64/264 Bypass in Knightdale. It will have interchanges at U.S. 401, Buffaloe Road and U.S. 64/264 Business.

At the west end of Raleigh's six-lane rainbow, only the first mile of a new I-540 extension will be ready for traffic in 2006.

"The stretch from I-40 to N.C. 54 will be open by the end of the year," said Jon Nance, who oversees DOT work in Wake and six other counties. "The piece from N.C. 54 to N.C. 55, we're thinking spring." That's spring 2007.

That first mile should make a real difference for thousands of drivers who get snarled every morning in the backed-up exit from southbound I-540 onto westbound I-40. Many Research Triangle Park workers will have a new option to go the extra mile on I-540 to exit at N.C. 54.

Another three-mile extension of I-540, also under construction, will pass through RTP. It will have an exit to Kit Creek Road and Davis Drive, on the way to N.C. 55 on the south side of RTP.

By the time DOT opens this last three miles of I-540 next spring, the state expects to have permission from the Federal Highway Administration to erect a tollbooth on it.

The tollbooth won't be built right away, but it's part of the plans for North Carolina's first two new toll roads.

The N.C. Turnpike Authority hopes by 2008 to start building two new toll expressways in the neighborhood. The Western Wake Parkway, a 12.7-mile extension of I-540, would run south from RTP to Holly Springs. The Triangle Parkway would extend N.C. 147 3 to 5 miles south of I-40 through RTP, ending either at I-540 or at McCrimmon Parkway in Morrisville.

These two turnpikes would be linked together by a mile of the I-540 section now under construction. With backing from the legislature, Wake County mayors and the turnpike authority, the state Board of Transportation is expected Thursday to send its I-540 tollbooth request to Washington.

Trailblazer honored

Road building was strictly men's work before Emily Brown Blount came along.

She became the first woman to earn a degree from N.C. State University in transportation civil engineering, in 1953. She was the first North Carolina woman registered as a professional engineer. After a 40-year career at DOT, most of it in traffic engineering, she retired in Raleigh.

Blount will be inducted today into the N.C. Transportation Hall of Fame at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer. The same honor will be conferred, posthumously, on construction executive Nello L. Teer Sr. of Durham. Details are online at www.ncthf.org.

Bus shopping

When TTA replaces 20 aging buses in 2008, should it buy new models from Optima -- or from Gillig? TTA wants your opinion.

TTA and the two manufacturers will have buses on display for public inspection Wednesday at four Triangle locations:

* Chapel Hill -- Franklin Street at Morehead Planetarium, 8-10 a.m.

* Raleigh -- Fayetteville Street south of Davie Street, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.

* Durham -- Fernway at Washington Street, a block from the DATA bus terminal, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

* RTP -- TTA transfer center, 4-6 p.m.

Details are online at www.ridetta.org.

Parking costs

Donald Shoup, an urban planning professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, will lecture on "The High Cost of Free Parking" at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Fletcher Opera Theater at the Progress Energy Center in downtown Raleigh.

The lecture, free and open to the public, is sponsored by the city's Urban Design Center. Call 807-8480 for details.

Enlighten the Road Worrier with comments, questions or tips: bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or 829-4527. Please include name, address and daytime phone num

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