WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — The North Carolina Board of Transportation is expected to approve the next section of Interstate 540 construction this week. The road comes at a cost of $20 million a mile, but the state Department of Transportation said it is worth every cent.
Interstate 540 construction started at Interstate 40 near the Wake/Durham County line 10 years ago. During that time, the road grew to the east. DOT crews are now going through the woods to the west, taking the outer loop from I-40 to Highway 55, north of Apex.
"It gives all the folks in north Raleigh and over towards Knightdale an opportunity to get to their workplace without getting on I-40," DOT resident engineer Jon Nance said.
The planned 5-mile section of I-540 running from I-40 to Highway 55 would have interchanges at Highway 54 and 55. The result will be access to major Research Triangle Park thoroughfares without the daily bottlenecks on the interstate -- bottlenecks caused by I-540 traffic dumping into an already jammed I-40.
"That gives drivers another option to stay out of the downtown areas and the beltline areas and it frees up the other roads like U.S. 1 coming in," Nance said.
It is a change in strategy, but DOT engineers are working ahead. Two bridge supports that will carry the new lanes over I-40 are in place, putting the project on the fast track.
The plan is not perfect for everyone.
"One of the cloverleafs comes right through this corner of our building, so we're definitely in the way," said Johnny Cooper of Ideal Landscaping.
Dozens of homes and businesses will be demolished.
"That's just the price of progress," Cooper said.
Work could start in the next 90 days. The new segment from I-40 to Highway 55 is expected to be finished in late 2005 or early 2006. The I-540 segment from Capital Boulevard to Highway 64 in Knightdale is on the same timetable.