Road plans mean traffic jams in the Triangle

Improvement work to create big traffic jams

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comSeptember 6, 2012 

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Traffic heads eastbound on the I-40/southern loop of the Beltline in Raleigh NC, seen from the Lake Wheeler Rd. overpass on Sept 5, 2012. This portion of highway is slated for a major reworking over the next few years.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com

— A three-year project to rebuild Raleigh’s southern Beltline, starting next summer, will be just the first of major road projects expected to bring big changes on Triangle highways – and create work-zone headaches for local commuters – over the coming decade.

Engineers at the state Department of Transportation have staggered the schedules for four Raleigh-area projects so drivers won’t have to grapple with more than one nightmare at a time. The timetables are included in an updated statewide plan for transportation improvements through 2023, which was released Wednesday in draft form.

The southern Beltline job will replace all the pavement on eight lanes and 11 miles of Interstate 40 and I-440 along the south side of Raleigh, used by 110,000 drivers every day. DOT gave it the nickname “Crawleigh” as a light-hearted signal that drivers should expect slow going for a long time.

When Beltline traffic is crammed into two lanes each way for months at a time, the Crawleigh project will push drivers onto other streets and highways, worsening the rush-hour delays in other parts of the city. So DOT doesn’t want to throw more bulldozers in their way.

“Whatever alternate route that people choose, and there are many, we certainly don’t want to send people on an alternate route that is under construction,” said Wally Bowman, who oversees DOT work in Wake and six neighboring counties. “We’re trying to sequence those projects so we finish one before we start the next one.”

That’s one reason DOT will wait until 2017 to build a complicated interchange near the State Fairgrounds. Blue Ridge Road will be tunneled under Hillsborough Street, two railroad tracks and Beryl Road in West Raleigh.

In 2018, DOT plans to start widening I-440 between Wade Avenue and Walnut Street in Cary – not far from the Blue Ridge dig, and not far from the scheduled misery on the southern Beltline.

Also in 2018, DOT expects to start widening 11 miles of I-40 south from the Beltline to N.C. 42 in Johnston County.

These schedules can be shifted before then if necessary, Bowman said.

“As we get closer, we will revise the actual contract letting dates to make sure one project is finished before we start the next,” Bowman said.

Elsewhere in the Triangle, other big projects on the DOT calendar include Durham’s long-delayed East End Connector, which will complete a freeway link between I-85 and Research Triangle Park. Construction starts in 2014.

And in Orange County, DOT plans in 2017 to start widening I-40 from Hillsborough to Chapel Hill.

DOT planners are scheduling nearly 3,000 highway, rail, transit and other projects, worth a combined $18.8 billion, through 2020 in the draft seven-year State Transportation Improvement Plan released Wednesday. Board of Transportation members will review it for 30 days, publish it in October for a period of public comment, and adopt it formally in June.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/

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