Road Worrier

Major West Raleigh traffic jam likely Wednesday

Staff WriterSeptember 7, 2010 

Traffic is expected to be bad Wednesday near the RBC Center during both the morning and evening rush hours. A motivational conference at the arena might draw many extra vehicles to the area.

You'll be late getting to work Wednesday. Better tell your boss today.

If you're among many thousands of workers and schoolchildren whose daily commute passes near West Raleigh, get ready to get trapped in what could be our worst traffic jam since Oct. 11, 2007.

That was the day the "Get Motivated!" business seminar came to the RBC Center. A roster of pitchmen, politicians and motivation evangelists preached productivity to people who took a day off from the office to hear them.

They'll converge on West Raleigh on Wednesday to do it all again.

Why will this event wreck the morning drive for the rest of us?

The RBC "Get Motivated!" seminar starts at 8 a.m., during the morning rush. It ends at 4:45 p.m., during the afternoon rush. It will be sold out.

The 18,000 people coming to the RBC won't travel three or four to a car, as smart sports fans do. They'll go mostlysolo, in nearly 18,000 cars, straight from home.

Raleigh police, state troopers and school, transportation and emergency management officials expect traffic backups worse than what Raleigh sees during ice storms and hurricanes. Worse than when N.C. State University plays a home football game during the State Fair.

They're doing what they can to ease the pain this time. But they warn commuters - and their bosses - to expect long delays.

The rush-hour jam will clog Wade Avenue, of course, and Interstate 40 in West Raleigh. Don't go there.

And the ill effects will spread farther. Wednesday's must-avoid list also includes the I-440 Beltline, Hillsborough Street, Chapel Hill Road (N.C. 54), and Edwards Mill, Blue Ridge and Trinity roads.

"Our message really is to try to avoid our neck of the woods" if you aren't coming to the seminar, said Larry Perkins, the RBC Center's assistant general manager.

Linda B. Brinkley's commute from North Raleigh to Chapel Hill normally took about 45 minutes. That day in October 2007, it took her nearly three hours just to get out of Raleigh.

The backups began as she started south on the Outer Beltline (now called I-440 West), long before she reached her Wade Avenue exit.

"Nothing moved, and there was no way to get out of it," Brinkley said. "I've experienced all sorts of traffic jams and snowstorms and everything, and I would say that day was the worst."

No shuttle or transit service is planned for this week's RBC event. NCSU has canceled Wolfline bus service to the park-and-ride lot at nearby Carter-Finley Stadium. Park-and-ride privileges are canceled for that day so RBC patrons can use those parking spaces.

Police and RBC officials say they're doing what they can.

"We have rented more parking spaces and hired more staff than we've ever had for any event," Perkins said. "We're as well prepared as we possibly can be, but it's a matter of volume."

Officers will monitor traffic in the area, and sometimes they might briefly close clogged exits from I-40, Wade and I-440. Drivers may find themselves rerouted even if they aren't going to the RBC.

Police and DOT spokesmen said problems Wednesday probably will be worse during the morning rush than in the afternoon.

Brinkley is lucky this time because she now has an easier commute to a different job in downtown Raleigh. Even though she won't be heading through West Raleigh, she'll take extra care to avoid trouble Wednesday.

"I would not get on the Beltline, and I would not get on I-40," Brinkley advised. "I would look for another way."

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