NCDOT unveils plans for new freeway between Raleigh and Wake Forest

Editor’s note: The second meeting mentioned in this story, at Renaissance Centre in Wake Forest, was canceled because of Hurricane Michael. The N.C. Department of Transportation has rescheduled it for Monday, Oct. 29, from 4 to 7 p.m. in a new location: Wake Forest Baptist Church, 107 South Ave.

The N.C. Department of Transportation plans to turn Capital Boulevard into a freeway from Interstate 540 in Raleigh north through Wake Forest and will present its plans at two public meetings this week.

The limited-access highway would be free of traffic lights and driveways and would speed travel in northern Wake County, particularly for commuters from Wake Forest and Franklin County. At the same time, numerous businesses and even some neighborhoods and apartment complexes would lose direct access to U.S. 1, in some cases requiring new access roads to prevent being cut off completely.

The public can see the plans at meetings on Tuesday at Lifepointe Church, 9500 Durant Road in Raleigh, and on Thursday at Renaissance Centre, 405 Brooks St. in Wake Forest. Both meetings run from 4 to 7 p.m. There will be no formal presentations, but people will be able to ask questions and provide feedback.

Planning for the freeway began in 2006, with a U.S. 1 Corridor Study completed by NCDOT, local governments and transit agencies and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. NCDOT hopes to refine its plans by next summer and award a contract for final design and construction, which would begin in the spring of 2021.

NCDOT says the goal of the $465 million freeway project is to reduce congestion and travel time. The highway would be six lanes wide, with 12-foot shoulders and a concrete median and a speed limit of 65 mph. Some of the early feedback NCDOT has received on the project is from enthusiastic commuters who call it overdue.

“This is a much needed and timely project,” Theodore F. Mayer wrote on NCDOT’s website. “Wish it were completed today.”

But the change will create challenges for businesses and neighborhoods that have grown up along the road and rely on it for access.

The freeway plan calls for creating four new interchanges along Capital at Durant/Perry Creek roads, Burlington Mills Road, Falls of Neuse Road/Main Street and Purnell/Harris roads. Other streets that now intersect with U.S. 1, including Thornton Road, Sharon Farms Avenue, Jacqueline Lane and Caveness Farms Avenue, would lose that direct connection.

Traffic patterns would change, as residents of neighborhoods such as Smoketree are forced to seek new routes in and out. In other cases it’s not clear yet how people would reach their homes without access to Capital Boulevard; places such as River Haven Apartments and Overlooke at Simms Creek Apartments have no other ways in or out.

Wake Forest planning director Chip Russell said NCDOT and the local governments in Raleigh and Wake Forest will come up with new access roads to homes and businesses cut off by the freeway, but those don’t appear on the state’s plans now.

“The challenge is going to be working that service road concept to get everybody tied back in to where the interchanges are going to be,” Russell said in an interview. “Unfortunately we don’t have that component ready yet.”

David Stark, the senior project manager for NCDOT, said he expects most of the questions he’ll get at the meetings this week will be about access. He says it will take longer to determine where new service roads will be needed, but says those will appear on the next set of maps NCDOT presents to the public next year.

The bottom line, Stark said: “We are not going to landlock you. We will provide access.”

Even if everyone gets connected, businesses that have enjoyed a prominent spot on a busy road, such as the Sheetz at the corner of Thornton Road, will become much harder to get to. The Wake Forest Crossing shopping center, which includes a Lowe’s Foods, Kohl’s, T.J. Maxx and several restaurants, will lose its driveways and become accessible only via Stadium Drive, which will no longer connect with Capital Boulevard.

Russell said there’s a possibility of an exit from the northbound lanes of the freeway into the shopping center, but not a full interchange. Construction on this northern-most leg of the freeway, from N.C. 98 to near the Franklin County line, would come later than the rest, starting in 2024.

Some of the newer businesses along U.S. 1 were laid out with the future freeway in mind. The row of car dealerships just north of I-540 now enjoy a direct entrance from Capital, but they were built along an access road, Capital Hills Drive, that connects with Durant Road and will become the route for customers when that entrance closes.

For more information about the project, including a place to make comments online, go to ncdot.publicinput.com/US-1-Capital-Boulevard.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling
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