Traffic was supposed to flow more smoothly along N.C. 55 through Apex when the state opened the Triangle Expressway through western Wake County in 2012.
A lot of commuter traffic along N.C. 55, which is Williams Street in Apex, has shifted to the TriEx N.C. 540 toll road. But that traffic has been replaced by more local traffic as the town continues to grow.
Now the state Department of Transportation is fast-tracking a project to widen the 2.8-mile section of N.C. 55 between Olive Chapel Road and U.S. 1. Construction is set to begin in 2021, a year earlier than first planned, to widen the stretch from three lanes with a central turn lane to four lanes divided by a median.
The state hosted an open house Tuesday evening in Apex to meet with residents and stakeholders. Apex and the DOT will hold another joint meeting about the project in the fall.
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It’s unclear how much it will cost, but Russell Dalton, a senior transportation engineer in Apex, said an early estimate is $20 million.
A traffic analysis by consulting firm VHB shows the corridor’s crash rate is more than three times higher than the average for similar state routes. Since 2011, there have been 588 incidents, mostly rear-end collisions, along the stretch of N.C. 55.
“I like to use 540 as much as I can, but unfortunately, church and school – they’re all right here,” said Apex resident Ginger Bennett, whose daughter attends Apex Middle School along Williams Street. “I’m stuck in it twice a day for the carpool. This has got to happen.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, officials got community input on whether to accommodate bicyclists using an extra-wide outside lane or an extra-wide sidewalk – “a greenway next to the road,” DOT spokesman Steve Abbott said.
It was also meant as an exploratory conversation for the property and business owners along the corridor, who could have to sell parts of their property for the road’s right-of-way or see turning access limited by a new median.
Another potential sticking point is the road’s path under a railway bridge, which spans the three-lane width of the existing road near its intersection with Salem Street. The plans on display Tuesday show the road narrowing briefly to three lanes under the bridge before widening again.
Jon Soika, a road design consultant working with DOT on the project, said designers don’t think that should cause too much of a bottleneck. But Abbott said the department will work closely with the rail company that owns the bridge to find a way to keep the road at full width.
“They don’t want to lose service on their lines, so that might mean we build a second bridge right next to the existing one,” he said. “We’d prefer to roll that into this project, so we don’t spend two years widening the road and then drivers have to wait another two years for us to finish the bridge.”
Bennett said she’d like to see something done about the bridge, if only to ease her anxieties about its structural integrity.
“I don’t stop under it,” she said. “If I’m stuck in traffic, I stop before I get to it and and leave space, because there are chunks of concrete that look like they’re going to fall. I just wait for the light to turn and go fast.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan