For commuters from Johnston County who have inched toward Raleigh on Interstate 40 or endured traffic jams at the N.C. 42 interchange, the N.C. Department of Transportation says relief is on the way – in about five years.
NCDOT will present its plans to add more lanes to I-40 at a meeting Monday, Oct. 2, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Garner United Methodist Church. The state plans to add two lanes in each direction to an 11-mile stretch of I-40, from N.C. 42 to the merge with Interstate 440 on the south side of Raleigh.
At the same time, the state will reconfigure the congested N.C. 42 interchange, with a new traffic pattern and new ramps that will give drivers the option of getting on or off at nearby Cleveland Road. The $350 million project is scheduled to begin next fall and take until 2022 to complete. The new lanes should be sufficient to handle traffic until at least 2040, said Bob Deaton, an NCDOT manager on the project.
NCDOT plans to keep the same number of lanes open during construction, as it did during the rebuilding of I-40 across the south side of Raleigh in recent years, but speed limits will be reduced and shoulders will disappear in places.
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Except for a few slivers of land here or there, the widening will take place within the existing right of way. In several places, there will be a new concrete median, like the one on the Raleigh Beltline.
But the state will need to take some real estate to reconfigure and expand the interchange at N.C. 42 and Cleveland Road, including a couple of houses and a wooded area behind West View Elementary School.
NCDOT plans to build what is essentially two interchanges in one. A driver exiting eastbound I-40, for example, will be able to get on N.C. 42 or remain on a new section of the ramp that will parallel the highway to Cleveland Road. The new configuration will solve one of the reasons for congestion at the interchange: Many of the drivers getting off at N.C. 40 actually want to get on Cleveland Road.
“This allows a lot of folks who don’t want to stop and do anything at 42 to go straight down to Cleveland,” Deaton said.
NCDOT is also proposing to build what will be one of the first diverging diamond interchanges in the Triangle (another is planned at I-440 and Western Boulevard as part of the Beltline widening project). Drivers on N.C. 42 will cross to the opposite side of the road at traffic lights at each end of the bridge over I-40, allowing drivers to enter the freeway or merge on to N.C. 42 without making a left turn. The scheme keeps traffic moving across the bridge by reducing the amount of time drivers have to wait at red lights, Deaton said.
The design drew some skepticism when NCDOT engineers showed it at a public meeting at West View Elementary in June 2014, but Deaton recalls that most people were “pleasantly agreeable to it.”
“It does take a little bit of explaining,” he said. “But once you’ve driven on them, it’s actually pretty easy.”
There will be less dramatic changes at two other interchanges along this stretch of I-40.
The loop that carries traffic from eastbound U.S. 70 onto westbound I-40 in Garner will be eliminated. Instead, traffic will turn left at a new traffic light on U.S. 70 onto a new entrance ramp. Drivers taking the loop find it difficult to get up to speed, because the loop is uphill and because they must criss-cross with traffic exiting I-40 onto westbound U.S. 70.
“Anybody who has been on that loop is not a fan of it,” Deaton said.
Meanwhile, the bridge that carries I-440 traffic onto eastbound I-40 in Raleigh will be replaced by a new, parallel ramp. The new one is needed in part to create an opening large enough for a wider eastbound I-40 to pass underneath. The widening will eliminate the current scenario where two lanes of I-40 and two lanes of I-440 must merge into three lanes.
“That’s one of the big reasons you get that backup every single afternoon,” Deaton said. “That pinch-point will be removed.”
Also as part of the widening project, the Rock Quarry Road bridge over I-40 will be widened to five lanes, with new sidewalks and bike lanes. The city plans to widen Rock Quarry from Creech Road to Sunnybrook Road, near the Walnut Creek music center. The city’s share of the project, $10.2 million, would be provided by the transportation bond that voters will be asked to approve during the Oct. 10 election.
For more information about the I-40 widening project, go to www.ncdot.gov/projects/publicmeetings/ and look for I-511 and I-4739.