The extension of the Interstate 540 freeway loop east through southern Wake County won’t get started for at least three years, although the timeline for another section of the road has been sped up.
The N.C. Department of Transportation had hoped to start construction in 2018, but the agency’s proposed 10-year road construction schedule released this week has pushed back the project to 2020.
DOT officials say the change is needed for design and planning work on the project, which will extend the six-lane toll road from N.C. 55 in Holly Springs to U.S. 401 between Garner and Fuquay-Varina.
Last year, DOT finalized the “Orange Route” option and ruled out alternate routes for the freeway, but the route will mean federal regulators will require DOT to minimize pollution to the habitat of an endangered stream creature, the dwarf wedge mussel. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers likely will require construction methods and structural design details that can reduce the miles of streams and acres of wetlands affected.
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The new road construction plan has good news for drivers eager for the final legs of the I-540 loop. The start of construction on the section from U.S. 401 to Interstate 40 in Garner has been moved up from 2024 to 2020. And DOT has picked a year for starting the final piece of the loop, from Garner to I-540’s eastern end in Knightdale: Construction there is now scheduled to begin in 2027.
“The department does not view the changes to the 540 loop project in the draft 10-year plan as a delay,” DOT spokesman Robert Broome said Wednesday. “Rather, we have found a way to accelerate the entire project by combining the first two segments with a design-build contract in 2020. This means that the link between the current expressway and I-40 could be ready four years earlier than anticipated.”
DOT hasn’t set dates yet for the opening of the new I-540 sections. The entire project is estimated to cost $2.2 billion.
The I-540 construction changes are part of DOT’s draft 2018-2027 State Transportation Improvement Program released Wednesday. The plan is revised every two years using an objective formula to prioritize road funding based on traffic needs. The document will be the subject of a public comment period this spring and is expected to be finalized by the Board of Transportation in June.
Here’s a few other highlights from the plan that will affect Triangle commuters:
I-40 between Hillsborough and Durham: One of the last remaining four-lane stretches of I-40 in the area won’t be getting wider anytime soon. That section had been scheduled to get extra lanes between 2021 and 2023, but the project has been taken off the schedule in DOT’s latest proposed plan.
“The widening of I-40 in Orange County is not included in the draft 2018-2027 plan because that project did not score as highly as other statewide mobility and regional impact projects,” Broome said, noting that an unrelated project to improve the N.C. 86 interchange has been added to the DOT’s list. “The widening of I-40 will likely be submitted and reviewed in the next round of planning.”
N.C. 147 Durham Freeway: Newly added widening project will start construction in 2022 and add lanes between the new East End Connector and I-40.
U.S. 401 between Rolesville and Louisburg: A widening project will be moved up from 2019 to 2018.
I-40 at U.S. 1 and I-440 between Raleigh and Cary: A redesign of this dysfunctional junction has been moved up to begin construction in 2022.
I-40 between Wade Avenue and U.S. 1 in Cary: A widening of this section scheduled for 2025 has been removed from DOT’s plan.
I-440 Beltline at Capital Boulevard: Major interchange improvements have been added to DOT’s plan with a construction date of 2026.
U.S. 70 between Raleigh and Durham: The plan moves up the conversion of U.S. 70 to a freeway between Durham’s Lynn Road and Raleigh’s Brier Creek from 2024 to 2022. And DOT now plans in 2026 to convert U.S. 70 to a “superstreet” with additional lanes between I-540 and Hilburn Drive in northwest Raleigh. A superstreet is a road design that requires drivers attempting to turn left or cross the highway to first turn right and then make a U-turn.
I-40 between Aviation Parkway and Harrison Avenue west of Raleigh: The plan calls for the construction of auxiliary lanes in 2024. Auxiliary lanes can reduce traffic congestion by connecting on-ramps with off-ramps so fewer drivers have to merge.