Morrisville Parkway will connect to N.C. 540 sooner than expected.
The Cary Town Council on Thursday unanimously approved a $17.5 million contract with the state Department of Transportation and Turnpike Authority to build an interchange connecting the two roads.
The town began designing the $26.7 million project years ago but hasn’t made much progress because it has accrued only $9.1 million of the funding.
Under the agreement, Cary will pay $5.1 million, and state transportation authorities will pay $12.5 million to get project rolling.
Council members praised the deal as one that will save the town money and improve traffic in one of the town’s fastest-growing areas. There are no major roads that run east to west in western Cary and connect N.C. 54, N.C. 55 and N.C. 540.
“How the heck to do say no to that?” Councilman Don Frantz said of the deal.
“This is a very exciting opportunity for the people of western Cary,” Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said.
It’s unclear when construction will begin and when the interchange will open.
The town has designed only 25 percent of the project and still needs to acquire land near the site.
But the deal calls for authorities to coordinate construction of the interchange with Cary’s completion of Morrisville Parkway, which will likely come in 2016 or 2017.
The Morrisville Parkway extension will open as a two-lane road, but the town can widen it to four lanes once traffic picks up.
The interchange will likely include two long, angled ramps that would carry traffic off of N.C. 540 onto the parkway and two traffic loops that would carry traffic onto N.C. 540.
Councilwoman Lori Bush said the turnpike’s offer was “like an answer to a prayer.”
In January, the council told town staff to find ways to fast-track the project in part because some residents near the future interchange are hoping to sell their land but are in limbo until a plan is reached.
While the deal is great, Bush said, the situation isn’t as good as it could be.
“If I were to pray about this, I would pray for the end to the toll,” she said, referring to the tolls the Turnpike Authority charges drivers to access the western section of N.C. 540, which runs through Cary.
“It’s a huge disservice that the people in Cary are the only ones who have to pay a toll,” Bush said.
No residents spoke out against the plan at Thursday’s meeting. But one resident, Caprice Cox, contacted Mayor Harold Weinbrecht in opposition to the deal because it directs residents to a toll road.
“I think it is wrong for cary to fund a road that cary citizens will also need to pay to use,” she wrote in an email. “I don’t know enough about our highways to know the traffic solution, but my first thought is stop building apartments and town homes … to cut down on the population and look at options to direct traffic to (Interstate) 440.”
New tree removal rules
In other business, the Town Council approved an overhaul of the way trees are removed in Cary as part of the development process.
The new regulations aim to save more trees and give developers more flexibility by prioritizing the preservation of some trees over others depending on their size and location.
For instance, Cary will now consider reducing the required number of parking spaces for commercial developments by up to 25 percent if developers preserve more trees than the rules require.
The revised rules come after nine months of gathering input from developers and environmentalists.
“A lot of labor went into this,” Councilman Ed Yerha said.
“This is a great compromise,” Bush said. “I think it speaks volumes that … no one came up to this public hearing to give us negative feedback.”