If you're among Triangle commuters who have repeatedly waited in traffic along major corridors, relief may be in sight. It's in a transportation spending plan released as part of Gov. Pat McCrory's Strategic Mobility Formula for the next 10 years.
The plan aims to convert Raleigh's congested Capital Boulevard to a freeway between the northern 540 Outer Loop and N.C. 98 at Wake Forest. Also in the plan is a conversion of South Miami Boulevard to a freeway between T.W. Alexander Drive and Lynn Road in Durham. And some of those clogged intersections in Durham and Wake counties will be turned into freeway-style interchanges.
These things will speed traffic, save gas and cut pollution and, yes, facilitate economic development. Business and residential development that increases density, after all, also tends to boost congestion, absent any kind of relief.
In addition, 30 miles of Interstate 40 will see added lanes. That will happen from Interstate 85 to U.S. 15-501 in Orange County, from Wade Avenue to Lake Wheeler Road in Raleigh and from the Raleigh Beltline to N.C. 42 in Johnston County.
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Turning the ship
And here's another big part of the plan: Helping to fund some light rail from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to Duke University and downtown Durham.
The State Department of Transportation is committing to do these projects. And the State Board of Transportation, mostly appointed by McCrory, will after a public review take up approval of the plan this coming summer.
If you think turning a battleship is a slow process, try altering North Carolina transportation planning, a task that's in the past been poisoned by politics, slowed by funding cuts and hindered by fighting among urban and rural areas.
But McCrory's plan recognizes that the urban areas are the key to economic development everywhere. If products and people can move more efficiently around urban areas, that increases the chances of selling development ideas outside those areas. And the urban areas remain the center of business activity in the state and always will be. The objective is to use those areas - the Triangle, the Charlotte area, the Piedmont Triad - as hubs.
In this together
Absent a focus on urban areas, the state's transportation improvements have been catch-as-catch-can. The governor, a former Charlotte mayor, surely will have to sell these ideas to smaller communities in rural areas, where some people think of him as a big-city guy. But the ideas can be sold under the "we're all in this together" banner.
If it's easier, for example, for commuters to move along I-40 around Durham and Chapel Hill and Raleigh, possibilities for development of areas near I-40 improve.
And with the election of new Wake County commissioners who are all-in with plans for light rail and commuter trains and with working with neighboring Orange and Durham counties, the area can be knitted together more efficiently and focus development on areas with train stops and commercial centers.
That will at last begin to create a transportation network that blends mass transit with roads, something that's never happened in this area as various politicians have dismissed light rail and commuter rail as something for which this area isn't ready.
The idea isn't to constantly play catch-up. Is it really sensible to wait until traffic is so choked that I-40, for one, becomes a morning and afternoon parking lot? No, it makes far more sense to look ahead, down the road and the tracks, so to speak, to anticipate growth that surely is coming. And with it will come new residents from urban areas accustomed to rail service. They'll expect to have alternatives to traveling by car. This plan will help provide them.