Commuters are learning new ways to squeeze into two lanes of traffic on the southeastern elbow of Raleigh’s Beltline, as road crews reach new milestones in a three-year, $130 million reconstruction project.
The rebuilding work is nearly finished in the inside lanes of Interstate 440, on a 3.5-mile stretch from the I-40 split in South Raleigh to the U.S. 64/264 interchange on the east side of the city.
Drivers on the Outer Beltline (I-440 West) were shifted in July to the new inside lanes, so work could begin on the outside lanes. A similar lane shift is planned late this week for the Inner Beltline section (I-440 East) – where drivers will move into a new inside lanes pattern as soon as Friday, if weather permits.
For drivers who had been using two narrow, outside lanes of I-440 since January, the inside-lanes switch brings familiar constraints along with some new ones. While they continue coping with narrow lanes, drivers in the work zone now should pay extra attention when they look for an exit ramp.
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“You’re in that typical cattle-chute kind of environment through the construction zone,” said Steve Abbott, a state Department of Transportation spokesman. “And now when you come to your exit, you’ve got to cut across two closed (outside) lanes to make the exit. It’s closer quarters and a sharper turn.”
Because there are no shoulders in the work zone, DOT asks drivers to avoid stopping their cars, if they can, after a fender bender or a flat tire. Drive to the next exit if possible, Abbott said. Otherwise, stay in your car, call 911 and wait for help.
“In some cases, people have just stopped the car in the travel lane,” Abbott said. “And as soon as you stop and get out of your car, you’re standing in the other travel lane.”
The project involves digging out all the pavement, to a depth of 2 feet in some places, and replacing it in all lanes for 11.5 miles of the southern Beltline. The work was necessary because of a chemical reaction that has caused the 40-year-old pavement substructure to deteriorate.
Most of the I-440 work will be wrapped up by the end of the year. The lane closings will shift in December or January to the busier 8-mile I-40 section of the southern Beltline, where heavier delays are expected during construction that will continue through 2015 and 2016.
Some construction is underway now at interchanges along I-40, where bridges are being widened.