With the closing Friday night of a second exit ramp at the South Saunders Street interchange on Interstate 40, drivers are feeling more of the effects of Beltline construction expected to soon start causing chronic, widespread traffic congestion that will continue until late 2016.
Saunders is a busy exit for commuters and other drivers heading into downtown Raleigh, and for truckers turning south on U.S. 70 and U.S. 401. Now that four exit ramps are reduced to two, drivers coming from each direction on I-40 will use a single off ramp for both directions on Saunders.
Starting after Memorial Day weekend, the state Department of Transportation will begin pushing westbound I-40 drivers onto three outside lanes including a newly paved shoulder between Gorman Street and U.S. 1 at Cary.
DOT is almost halfway through a three-year, $130 million project to dig up and reconstruct 11.5 miles of the Beltline, to replace deep layers of deteriorating concrete. Work is nearly finished on the final paving and lane striping for a 3-mile section of the I-440 Beltline that was rebuilt last year in Southeast Raleigh, where the last of six lanes is expected to reopen soon for traffic.
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Heavy traffic delays are expected on the 8.5-mile I-40 Beltline section across South Raleigh, where long sections of four- and five-lane traffic will be squeezed into three lanes each way in coming weeks. DOT has warned drivers to expect 30-minute delays on Beltline trips – and even worse traffic jams when accidents cause more backups.
Truckers passing through Raleigh on I-40 have been urged to consider a long but sometimes quicker detour as they head toward the coast: north around the city on the 540 Outer Loop, then west on I-495 (U.S. 64) to Rocky Mount, and south on I-95 to I-40.