The three-car garage is a popular amenity at 12 Oaks, a burgeoning golf course community with 500 homes sold and hundreds more on the way.
A nearby Starbucks is geared to serve car people, too. They were stacked seven deep in the drive-thru lane Friday at mid-morning, while a single walk-in customer ordered coffee – no waiting – inside.
The Triangle Expressway has spurred vigorous suburban development in the past few years in Holly Springs and southern Apex, reflected in steadily rising traffic on the state’s first modern toll road.
The state Department of Transportation is banking on continued growth with a construction project that is expected to attract more paying customers for TriEx. DOT awarded an $18.4 million contract this week to build a new interchange at Old Holly Springs-Apex Road, barely a mile from the exits at U.S. 1 and N.C. 55.
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With similar hopes, DOT and the town of Cary are planning to build another new TriEx interchange at Morrisville Parkway, about 8 miles north of the Old Holly Springs-Apex Road interchange, in 2017.
Both roads were too puny to warrant their own exits when TriEx opened for traffic in phases from December 2011 to December 2012. But turnpike planners kept their options open.
A red-brick bridge for Morrisville Parkway was included with the original construction, and that’s all it is today: just a bridge, with grass and pines growing wild at each end. The parkway has not reached TriEx, yet.
As for Old Holly Springs-Apex Road, it’s a two-lane, wooded country lane that, as recently as 2010, carried fewer than 2,000 cars a day on a bridge over TriEx.
But things have changed.
New neighborhoods including the 600-acre 12 Oaks are blossoming nearby, on the south side of TriEx. Just to the north, the planned 1,100-acre Veridea development is expected to bring retail, offices and urban densities along with housing for hundreds of families.
By 2035, DOT engineers say, Old Holly Springs-Apex Road will handle 34,000 cars a day, and a lot of them will use the toll road.
“We’re excited that they have let the contract, and looking forward to getting the interchange open,” said Tom Hendrickson, the Veridea developer.
The six-lane, 18.8-mile expressway stretches N.C. 147 south from Interstate 40 in Research Triangle Park and extends the 540 Outer Loop south from N.C. 54 through Cary and Apex to N.C. 55 at Holly Springs.
The nation was deep in recession when the N.C. Turnpike Authority borrowed $1 billion and started building TriEx in 2009 and forecasts for traffic and revenues were conservative.
Traffic counts have risen almost every month. The busiest part of TriEx, on N.C. 540 between N.C. 147 and N.C. 55, recorded an average weekday count of 37,160 cars in March – up from 32,800 last year and 25,900 in 2013.
Turnpike officials expected to collect $17.6 million in fiscal year 2014, but they took in $19.7 million.
“As a result of the Triangle Expressway, we’re seeing an explosion of growth around the facility,” said Beau Memory, the turnpike authority’s executive director. “These additional (interchanges) will be additional links to that growth.”
Morrisville Parkway started out as a line on a planning map, extending west from Cary into woods and pastures that are quickly being subsumed by subdivisions. The road has been built in pieces by developers, with a gap remaining in the middle. West of TriEx, it dead-ends in the Greystone neighborhood. To the east, Oaks at Highcroft.
Cary and DOT are developing a project to fill in the remaining 1.8 miles of Morrisville Parkway, bring it across the bridge that already bears its name, and add ramps and electronic toll gantries to make it the freeway’s 13th interchange. Cary officials hope to start construction in 2017, with traffic streaming down the completed road in 2018.
Starting in late 2016, the new interchange at Old Holly Springs-Apex Road will bring the toll road five or 10 minutes closer for hundreds of Apex and Holly Springs homeowners. And for southbound drivers who previously would have used the exit farther south at N.C. 55, the new option will cut the toll by 17 cents.
The toll road is a selling point for homebuyers here.
“A lot of people are looking at 12 Oaks now,” said David G. Mason of Holly Springs, a regional vice president for Landeavor, a Florida real-estate firm that is developing 12 Oaks. “A few years ago they might have considered Holly Springs a little too far out to meet their needs to go to Research Triangle Park or North Raleigh.
“Now they can be anywhere in 20 minutes,” Mason said. “It puts Holly Springs on the map, for people who choose to use the toll road.”
The next leg of 540
Residents across southern Wake County are awaiting a decision on which path the state Department of Transportation will choose for the southern extension of the Triangle Expressway from N.C. 55 at Holly Springs to Interstate 40 near Garner.
The proposed path marked by road planners in the 1990s, now called the Orange Route, runs through sensitive wetlands and the habitat of an endangered mussel. Pressed by federal environmental regulators, DOT has agreed to study alternatives that would avoid the protected wetlands.
Garner and other southern Wake towns have endorsed the Orange Route and have criticized the primary alternative, the Red Route, because it would run through parks, businesses and residential neighborhoods. A draft environmental impact statement, expected to be released in late July, will evaluate the impacts of each possible route.