Not a minute too soon, the city of Raleigh is about to wrap up work on three bottleneck-openers.
By late March or early April, city officials expect to:
Open a half-mile extension of Edwards Mill Road from Trinity Road to N.C. 54 (Chapel Hill Road). This will turn a West Raleigh dead-end into a thoroughfare for sports fans and fairgoers.
Finish widening part of inbound Leesville Road in North Raleigh, from Sycamore Creek Elementary School to the 540 Outer Loop. Suddenly, thousands of commuters will get to work each morning a few minutes faster.
Finish widening Tryon Road in South Raleigh between Dillard Drive and Campbell Road. This will unplug the remaining two-lane bottleneck west of Lake Wheeler Road, on the busiest part of Tryon Road through Raleigh and Cary.
These are medium-size road improvements that might easily escape notice in a busy metropolitan area.
After all, Triangle drivers are impatient for an Interstate 40 widening in West Raleigh. And they are looking forward - for better or worse - to the opening next year of the state's first modern toll road, the Triangle Expressway.
But Tryon, Leesville and Edwards Mill need help, too. These roads are supposed to be state responsibility. Each of the three carries more traffic and suffers worse congestion than, for example, U.S. 17, one of the state's high-priority road improvement projects in Eastern North Carolina.
They were low on a long list of projects competing for scarce state and federal road money. Tired of waiting, Raleigh voters agreed to sell bonds so the city could take care of the improvements.
The Leesville Road widening will help compensate for morning traffic generated by two schools with a combined 1,400 students. Raleigh has not scheduled construction on a $10 million plan to help more drivers by widening both sides of Leesville north from the 540 Loop to Hickory Grove Church Road.
In the 1990s, Tryon was a two-lane road where all traffic stopped when anybody slowed to make a left turn. Raleigh and Cary have converted most of Tryon to four lanes with a median to handle as many as 24,000 cars a day.
Traffic always backs up at the last narrow stretch between Dillard Drive and Campbell Road.
"It's been pretty bad there," says Terry Foster of Cary, who drives her daughter to school in South Raleigh each morning. "It's faster for me to go up U.S. 1 and down I-40, even though the distance is twice as long. I think this will help a lot, now."
Now only the less-crowded part of Tryon from Lake Wheeler to Wilmington Street remains to be widened, a job that has not been scheduled.
The Tryon and Edwards Mill projects aren't just for cars. Both roads have wide outside lanes to accommodate bicycles and sidewalks.
The Edwards Mill extension will provide a new option for some commuters who travel between West Raleigh and Cary. And city planners say it will provide a new way in and out for people coming to the RBC Center, Carter-Finley Stadium and the State Fairgrounds.
"This link introduces access to another interchange, I-40 at Chapel Hill Road," said Eric Lamb, the city transportation services manager. "You're going to see a different dynamic associated with the State Fair and other special events in this area."
State Fair officials plan to open up more parking areas off the new part of Edwards Mill.
Eventually, Lamb said, the city wants to extend Edwards Mill farther south to Western Boulevard, with a bridge that would carry it over Hillsborough Street.