U.S. 1 freeway in Wake and a dozen other Triangle highway projects may be delayed

The conversion of U.S. 1 into a freeway in northern Wake County, the widening of Wade Avenue near PNC Arena and the overhaul of U.S. 64 in Cary and Apex are among more than a dozen planned highway projects in the Triangle that will get started later than expected under the state’s proposed 10-year transportation plan.

Every two years, the N.C. Department of Transportation produces a new schedule for hundreds of projects statewide, making changes that reflect shifting costs and priorities and the availability of money. The latest version of the State Transportation Improvement Program or STIP will be approved by the state Board of Transportation this summer and covers the decade beginning in 2020.

The proposed plan calls for some new projects in the Triangle. They include the widening of U.S. 64 to six lanes between Wendell and Zebulon, scheduled to begin in 2028, and the addition of ramp meters to moderate traffic getting on Interstate 40 between Wade Avenue and N.C. 54 in Chapel Hill, now set for 2025.

But the number and extent of the delays, some as long as three years, are “brutal,” said Joe Milazzo, executive director of the Regional Transportation Alliance, a business group associated with the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. He cited in particular the construction of a freeway on U.S. 1 from Interstate 540 north through Wake Forest, which is being pushed back three years to 2024.

“The removal of traffic signals from Capital Blvd. is something that many people from North Raleigh, Wake Forest, Rolesville, and Franklin County have been waiting on for a very long time,” Milazzo wrote in an email. “Given the growth in that area, the commute isn’t getting any easier, and we need that project sooner rather than later.”

Another project that was a high priority for the transportation alliance — the addition of express lanes on the shoulders of I-540 across northern Wake County — has been pushed back from 2025 to sometime after 2029.

Several factors have resulted in the delays, according to NCDOT officials. In some cases, the expected costs have gone up because of inflation or as the true scope and details of the work comes into view. In other cases, NCDOT has determined that the tools it used to estimate costs had fallen short.

For example, the department has traditionally calculated the expected cost of buying right of way by simply adding on a percentage of the construction costs, said spokesman Sean Williams. In places like the Triangle, where the cost of land is relatively high, that approach under-estimated right-of-way costs, and NCDOT has begun basing its estimates on actual land values, Williams said.

“The cost estimation tool needed refinement to account for those right-of-way changes,” he said.

Williams said NCDOT has taken other steps to improve its cost estimates, including hiring more outside contractors to review the scope and designs of projects in advance.

There are 1,833 projects statewide in the proposed STIP, which will cost an estimated $27.8 billion over the decade. Highways and bridges account for about 94 percent of that spending, while the rest will go to non-highway projects such as bike paths, ferries and mass transit.

Statewide, 130 projects would be delayed from the timetable set out in the current 10-year plan. In the Triangle they include:

The conversion of U.S. 70 into a freeway from T.W. Alexander Drive west into Durham County would be delayed 3 years, to 2025, between South Miami Boulevard and Lynn Road in Durham and indefinitely between South Miami and T.W. Alexander.

The widening of Wade Avenue between the Beltline and I-40 near the arena would be delayed two years, to 2025.

The widening of U.S. 1 between U.S. 64 in Cary and N.C. 55 in Apex would be delayed two years, to 2028.

The widening of U.S. 64 in Cary and Apex, including the conversion of intersections into interchanges, would be delayed two years, to 2024.

Construction on a new segment of McCrimmon Parkway from Morrisville west toward N.C. 540 would be delayed four years, to 2027.

The widening of N.C. 55 from U.S. 1 to Olive Chapel Road in Apex would be delayed three years, to 2024.

Several projects would be delayed one year, including the addition of lanes to the Durham Freeway near Research Triangle Park and to I-40 between Lake Wheeler Road in Raleigh and U.S. 1.

NCDOT is taking feedback on the proposed 2020-2029 STIP through April 15. You can see the plan at www.ncdot.gov/initiatives-policies/Transportation/stip/ and submit comments at publicinput.com/2020-2029-STIP. Residents of NCDOT’s Division 5, which includes Wake, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Person, Vance and Warren counties, can review maps and ask questions about the STIP at the division office at 2612 North Duke St. in Durham between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. any day this week.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.