Jessica Wilson was relieved to learn Monday morning that she could look forward to an easier drive home to Raleigh from her job in Durham, starting that very afternoon.
Construction workers weekend finished opening a new third lane on eastbound Interstate 40 as it curves around West Raleigh from Harrison Avenue to the Jones Franklin Road overpass near U.S. 1/64.
Only eastbound? Yes, but take heart. A third lane will be open for westbound I-40 drivers in the next week or so.
The state Department of Transportation is finishing work this spring on a $49 million project to widen a six-mile stretch of I-40 that is the region's worst rush-hour bottleneck - especially in the afternoon, with jams that sometimes back up halfway to Research Triangle Park.
"I'm incredibly thankful this project is wrapping up," said Wilson, 22. "It is frustrating when it can take an hour to get home. I'm sure a lot of people will be grateful that they can spend more time at home with their families and not sitting in traffic."
The third westbound lane will make the morning drive easier for many commuters who travel toward Durham and Research Triangle Park from Raleigh and points east. Road crews are working at night to open a mile or so at a time.
Drivers should pay attention to several changes.
There's a new "Yield" sign for traffic heading from northbound U.S. 1/64 to eastbound I-40. An on-ramp lane that previously turned into a free-flowing I-40 lane now ends, and drivers must merge.
And as eastbound I-40 drivers approach Harrison Avenue, they'll notice that:
All three left lanes now continue east on I-40.
The far-right lane leads to the Wade Avenue exit.
The on-ramp from Harrison Avenue turns into a new free-flowing lane onto Wade Avenue. So Wade-bound drivers no longer merge onto I-40.
The project will be completed in the next several weeks with a final top layer of asphalt over all six lanes, and with new signs and lane markings to help drivers find their way.
Making more room for I-40 should make things less tense for everybody, especially for eastbound commuters approaching the Wade Avenue split. Whenever the left I-40 lanes are clogged and the right Wade Avenue lanes are open, there are always a few impatient types who want to speed ahead in the Wade lanes and then cut back in line on I-40.
"I'll be glad if the widening eases congestion on the I-40 side of the split," said Ken Kuzenski, 54, who has commuted from West Raleigh to Duke for more than 20 years.
On a good day, he makes the drive in 35 minutes. Sometimes it takes longer than an hour.
"I'm eager to see what it's like today," Kuzenski said Monday afternoon as he prepared to leave his office. "I just looked at the webcams, and it looks open there at the Wade-I-40 split. We'll see."