Commuters from the eastern and southern communities of the Triangle will soon have an easier way to get into the cities where they work and play. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is in the process of finishing its Complete I-540 project, known as the Southeast Extension. This $2.2 billion project extends the Triangle Expressway from Apex into Knightdale and will complete the I-540 Outer Loop around Raleigh.
Benefits of the extension
The Southeast Extension will be beneficial to the parts of the Triangle that are growing by the greatest numbers. For example, Johnston County and southern Wake County residents will now have better access to Raleigh-Durham and a faster commute. Currently, the North Carolina Department of Commerce reports that more than 60,000 Johnston County residents drive outside their cities to work. As new jobs come to the Triangle and real estate continues to push into its suburban and rural communities, it’s expected numbers like that of Johnston County will increase significantly.
Also, traffic congestion will be significantly reduced on the region’s major throughways, including I-440, I-40, NC 42, NC 55, and Ten-Ten Road. NCDOT has long been planning the Southeast Extension to help improve congestion concerns. The state agency began its planning studies in 2009 and published its reports in 2013. While census data showed the Triangle grew significantly between 2010 and 2020 — 28 percent in Johnston County, 25 percent in Wake County, and 21 percent in Durham County — the next several years could see those limits pushed even further. It’s estimated the Triangle could expand by more than 600,000 new residents within the next ten years.
The extension will connect the communities that showed the most significant growth in the Triangle, including Apex, Cary, Clayton, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, and Holly Springs.
The Triangle Expressway Southeast Extension details
The first phase of the Southeast Extension is due for completion in 2023 and includes construction that will connect the N.C. 55 Bypass to U.S. 401, as well as U.S. 401 to I-40. The final piece of the I-540 project won’t begin until 2027. This construction will complete the road along I-40 to the U.S. 64/264 Bypass, increasing the current loop by 28 miles and finishing off the existing 42-mile-long road around North Raleigh.
When complete, the highway will be a tolled, limited-access road. Three 12-foot lanes will allow drivers to travel at 70 miles per hour and will provide direct access to the Research Triangle Park and Durham via I-40 and to U.S. 64/US 264 east of Raleigh, all along the Wake/Johnston County line.
Transportation improvements throughout the Triangle
Leaders in the Triangle are also developing additional plans to help with traffic congestion. Feasibility studies show residents across the Triangle have three major concerns regarding transit: they expect reliability, reduced congestion, and increased connectivity.
In addition to the Southeast Extension, GoTriangle is taking on major initiatives that will increase connectedness. Those initiatives include a commuter rail system, which is expected to take as many as 10,000 riders per day across Raleigh, Durham, the Research Triangle Park, and a rapid transit bus system. Those projects are currently in planning stages and will likely not be operational until 2030.
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