Holly Springs, N.C. — Signs of change – from malls and businesses to homes – are all over the area surrounding the newest section of N.C. Highway 540 in Holly Springs.
Although town leaders have credited the toll road, set to open Jan. 2, for driving economic development, growth in some parts of the town has stopped.
"It hasn't changed for us," said Pat Johnson. "As a matter of fact, it's worse."
Johnson's family owns 63 acres in southern Wake County near the intersection of Kildaire Farm and Holly Springs roads – a third of which is in the potential path of what's expected to someday be the southern portion of the 540 loop.
"I am being held hostage – prisoner," Johnson said. "We can't do anything with the property."
Over the past decade, she says, developers have been interested in the property but have been hesitant to buy because of uncertainty over the North Carolina Department of Transportation's plans to extend the toll road in southern Wake County to complete the Interstate 540/N.C. Highway 540 loop.
Up until last year, the land was part of what's called a "protected corridor" by the state in which areas where future highways are planned is restricted to development.
Last year, the DOT developed a preliminary plan showing what the path might be like through Johnson's property, but because the DOT can still change its mind about the toll road's path, she says, she still cannot sell the land.
The holdups have potentially cost Johnson millions of dollars over the past 10 years. During that same time period, she's had to pay approximately $228,000 in property taxes on the land – taxes, she says, she can no longer afford.
Johnson says she supports the toll road project, just not the time the DOT has taken to develop concrete plans.
"You've got to be able to build the road, but it doesn't take 15, 20, 25 years to do it," she said. "This law needs to be changed, and the people in the Legislature of the state of North Carolina needs to get off their duffs and do it."
"It really is depressing to see all the (construction) activity going on, knowing we could be a part of it, but we're not," Johnson's husband, Ron Singleton, said.
The state recently purchased 2.5 acres of Johnson's property and is still considering another 20 acres. Johnson and Singleton are hopeful that will ease developers' concerns so that they will start building on their property.
Construction and planning on the 540 loop has been under way for years.
Right now, the completed portion of the 540 loop runs westward, as Interstate 540 from N.C. Highway 264 in Knightdale to N.C. Highway 54 in Morrisville.
From N.C. 54 in Morrisville, it continues as a toll road, called the Triangle Expressway, through Morrisville and Cary to U.S. Highway 64 in Apex.
The stretch opening as a toll road in January, the Western Wake Expressway, will run from U.S. 64 in Apex to N.C. Highway 55 in Holly Springs.
What's left to build is the southern and eastern portions of the 540 loop – the Triangle Expressway Southeast Extension – which will also be toll roads.
The southern portion is expected to stretch approximately 18 miles from N.C. 55 in Holly Springs to the Interstate 40 Clayton Bypass. The eastern portion would run about 12 miles from the I-40 Clayton Bypass to the existing I-540 near Knightdale.