Morrisville planning for NC 54 expansion
Posted April 16, 2015
Updated April 17, 2015
Morrisville, N.C. — Traffic on N.C. Highway 54 in Morrisville is expected to double or triple over the next 25 years, so town leaders are trying to get a head start and get plans for upgrades in place now.
Between 16,000 and 20,000 vehicles use N.C. 54 in Morrisville every day, which Desy Nikolova said already makes it difficult to get around.
"We have to go to work one hour earlier so we can reach our destination. It’s crazy," said Nikolova, who owns Champions Bar along the highway. "It’s great for business because people stop and have dinner and drink, and they just wait for the traffic."
By 2040, however, Morrisville officials fear some folks might be able to have two meals while they wait out the congestion, with projections calling for about 45,000 vehicles daily on N.C. 54.
"We are blessed with a wonderful location, which means a lot of traffic comes through here on the way to (Research Triangle Park)," Mayor Mark Stohlman said Thursday.
Stohlman added, however, that some segments of the highway remain two lanes wide, "like it was 150 years ago."
The town has teamed up with the state Department of Transportation and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization on a $250,000 study of a 6-mile stretch of N.C. 54 between Interstate 540 and Maynard Road in Cary. The study is examining widening the road to four or six lanes in places and shifting it elsewhere.
"This study, in some locations, is showing N.C. 54 moving a substantial distance from its current location," said Benjamin Howell, a transportation planner in Morrisville, noting that the highway could be moved up to 100 feet to separate it from a nearby rail corridor.
DOT officials already are realigning the rail line, a project that will permanently close the Church Street crossing next month and likely put more traffic on N.C. 54. Another crossing at Morrisville-Carpenter Road also might close if officials decide against trying to elevate the tracks.
"It’s really how soon can we get these improvements done?" Stohlman said of the highway upgrades. "It’s on a very long-term schedule right now."
After the feasibility study is completed, officials said DOT will have to slot N.C. 54 projects into its priority list and conduct environmental and engineering studies, meaning some aspects might not get done until 2040.
Morrisville officials said they don't want to sacrifice older homes and other buildings in the process. Stohlman called such historic structures "key to our future."
"The town is concerned about the extent of that widening and still maintaining a small-town atmosphere," Howell said.