Drivers feel their way through Raleigh’s southern Beltline I-440 work zone

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comMarch 18, 2014 

— Workers on a three-year rebuild of the southern Beltline have walled off the inside lanes of a section of Interstate 440 that will be their focus for the rest of this year – and that has locked Beltline drivers into an awkward, two-lane squeeze that will require them to take extra care in the coming months.

On a 3.5-mile leg of I-440 in Southeast Raleigh between the I-40 split and the U.S. 64/264 Knightdale Bypass, all traffic in each direction has been pushed onto the outside lane and what used to be the freeway shoulder.

The pavement is broken and uneven. Some drivers find the markings confusing.

“I was almost hit the other day,” said Geoff Hawkes of Cary. “I was following the road as best I could. The lane I was in just sort of disappeared. I think we need some bright, solid, white lines there.”

The new traffic pattern is part of a $130 million state Department of Transportation project, started in late 2013, to rebuild 11.5 miles of the southern Beltline from Cary to East Raleigh.

Concrete barriers have closed off the two inside lanes in both directions of I-440, where construction crews are digging out the pavement they will replace later this spring. When these lanes have been rebuilt – by late May, according to the project schedule – traffic will be shifted to the inside lanes, and similar work will begin in the outside lanes.

Drivers in the I-440 work zone find that the old lane lines and arrows have been partially erased but are still visible. The new temporary lanes are marked in white stripes that have faded in places. As a result, the new lines sometimes are hard to distinguish from old markings that crisscross the temporary lanes at on- and off-ramps.

Kevin Lacy, DOT’s chief traffic engineer, said he was aware of that problem.

“We do want to make those markings brighter,” Lacy said. “We intend to work with the contractor to make sure the markings are better and clearer.”

The construction is delaying daily trips by an average of 1 to 3 minutes on this part of I-440, which carries up to 91,000 cars and trucks a day, Lacy said. The worst backups are in the morning for drivers squeezing into the I-440 West work zone from the south, coming from both directions on I-40.

When the I-440 section is finished in late November, the lane closings will move to the busier 8-mile section of I-40 across South Raleigh to the U.S. 1 exit at Cary. Some work has already begun there, including tree removal around I-40 interchanges that will be rebuilt over the next two years. Heavier traffic jams are expected when construction crews start closing lanes on I-40, which handles up to 113,000 vehicles each day.

This I-40 phase is expected to take another two years. Commuters who come from Johnston County, and eastern and southern Wake County will have more trouble getting to work on time in downtown Raleigh and Research Triangle Park. Wake school officials are considering changes in I-40 bus routes and some school schedules next year.

A new Triangle Transit rush-hour express bus from N.C. 42 in Johnston County to downtown Raleigh is attracting 40 to 50 riders a day so far. More bus routes will be added, and higher demand is expected when the I-40 work begins.

Meanwhile, drivers on the southern Beltline will be coping with work zone changes until late 2016.

“The difficult nature inside the work zone, and the constantly changing traffic patterns, demand the utmost attention of our drivers,” Lacy said. “We request that people not talk on the phone and do other things while they’re in the work zone.”

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or newsobserver.com/roadworrierblog Twitter: @Road_Worrier

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