First Taste of N.C. 540 Mixed for Commuters

Posted July 16, 2007 5:49 a.m. EDT
Updated July 16, 2007 5:25 p.m. EDT

— Monday was the first test for the long-awaited extension of Interstate 540 that state road engineers say will bring traffic relief to thousands of commuters headed into Research Triangle Park.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation said the morning-traffic flow along the new N.C. 540 went as well as they expected.

The 4.5-mile stretch from Interstate 40 at the Wake-Durham county line to N.C. Highway 55 offers three exits into RTP. Until now, thousands of vehicles had to cram into one lane of I-540 every morning to get to I-40 and RTP.

"It as great," driver Jamal Thompson said Monday. "(It) took 10 minutes off my drive. It was perfect."

But some commuters traveling Monday from I-540 to I-40 complained of long lines on the I-40 exit ramp.

Prior to N.C. 540's opening on Saturday, there were two collector lanes for much of the approach of westbound I-40 into RTP that eventually narrowed to one lane.

Now, however, the ramp narrows to one lane sooner, which results in one lane each going to westbound and eastbound I-40 and three lanes over top of I-40 onto the new N.C. 540.

DOT engineer Phillip Johnson said traffic would flow better if motorists get in line earlier for the ramp. DOT engineers said they are studying the current traffic patterns and will make changes if they think they can improve the flow.

"It's going to take a week or so to work itself out and for people to figure out the best way for them to get to work," driver Craig Kempson said.

Crews began working on the $102 million I-540 extension in February 2004 and finished three weeks ahead of schedule.

“It’s been a long three years for this project, and we’re happy to see it open and (are) hoping the public is going to be happy with it, too,” said DOT representative David Byrd.

The North Carolina Turnpike Authority asked the DOT not to call N.C. 540 an "interstate" because the commission hopes to open the proposed Triangle Expressway in a few years as a toll road.

The toll road would overlap N.C. 540 between N.C. 54 and N.C. 55.