TriEx__022012_09_smlThe Triangle Expressway (“Tri-Ex”) — which opened in stages in 2011 and 2012 in southern Durham and western Wake counties– is the largest highway project in North Carolina history and the first modern toll road in North Carolina.

The first segment of the roadway — Toll 147 in Research Triangle Park — opened in December 2011.  The next segments, representing the continuation of the 540 Outer Loop, opened in August and December 2012.  When coupled with the proposed (toll free) Triangle Connector to I-85, which will be under construction in spring 2014, the region will soon additional new north-south, stoplight-free mobility in the heart of the Triangle.

A future extension of the turnpike — to be called the Triangle Expressway Southeast Extension — will extend Toll 540 from the NC 55 Bypass at Holly Springs to the south and east to I-40 at the existing US 70 Clayton Bypass.   The final segment of the Triangle Expressway Southeast Extension will extend 540 from I-40 at US 70 Clayton Bypass north and east to US 64/264 freeway at I-540.

TriEx motorists have the option of obtaining electronic transponders which will be associated to pre-paid accounts and will provide discounted toll rates.  Those without transponders can still use the toll road as cameras will take photos of license plates (similar to red light camera enforcement technology).  There are no toll booths to slow down drivers on toll roads in North Carolina as all tolls are collected electronically.

For a 2012 RTA map showing the opening and toll activation dates of various segments of the Triangle Expressway turnpike, click here.

For the NC Turnpike Authority map of 540/Triangle Expressway, click here.

Successes of RTA and partners on this priority

Recent successes

  • Complete 540 restarted in summer 2012
  • Repeal of legislation that prevented the 540 Southeast Extension turnpike from moving forward
  • Successful restart of the study to complete 540 in southeast Wake County
  • Repeal of CAMPO resolution that prevented the 540 Southeast Extension turnpike from moving forward
  • Hired consultant to identify possible alternative corridors and study improvements for 540/Triangle Expressway extension
  • Speed limit increase from 65 MPH to 70 MPH on all open sections of Raleigh Outer Loop
  • North Carolina’s firrst modern turnpike, The Triangle Expressway, opened from I-40 in Durham County South to NC 55/Holly Springs Bypass in 2012

Prior successes

  • Supported tolling of 540/Triangle Expressway segments east and west of NC 55
  • Legislative gap funding of $25 million per year for Triangle Expressway
  • Triangle Expressway approved as turnpike by both MPOs, and approved as cashless toll road by Turnpike Authority
  • Successfully lobbied for revenue retention and regional approval authority amendments to turnpike acceleration legislation (Senate Bill 1381)
  • Successfully lobbied for corridor revenue retention policy by NC Turnpike Authority, approved in August 2006
  • Turnpike Authority approved feasibility study of Triangle Parkway extension and I-540
  • Developed joint resolution with southwestern Wake mayors requesting study of tolls to accelerate 540


The next segment of the turnpike — to be called the Triangle Expressway Southeast Extension, or the “Complete 540” initiative — will extend Toll 540 from the NC 55 Bypass at Holly Springs to the south and east to I-40 at the existing US 70 Clayton Bypass, and then further east to join with 540 again at the US 64/264 Knightdale Bypass.  When that section of the turnpike is complete, it will create a complete bypass opportunity of Raleigh and the RDU area for traffic from Greensboro, Winston-Salem and the rest of the western I-40 corridor, east to Wilmington, the North Carolina ports, and nearby points.

However, due to a variety of environmental and subsequent legislative factors, the study of the southern and eastern portions of the proposed freeway was delayed for more than two years since March 2012.  In April 2012, the Federal Highway Administration gave the Turnpike Authority a 60-day deadline to demonstrate actions that would meet engineering and environmental analysis requirements or it would remove its “Notice of Intent” to complete the environmental study of the corridor.

With the completion of our beltway in jeopardy, RTA immediately engaged an environmental policy firm out of Washington, DC to provide guidance on a way forward, including multiple potential alternative corridors for the proposed turnpike freeway that would meet federal study requirements (see NCTA draft map of suggested corridors here). We shared that guidance with the Turnpike Authority, and the Turnpike Authority has corresponded directly with the Federal Highway Administration, asking that the project be allowed to continue.

RTA continues to engage with the project so that this critical freeway may be realized.  See for current information about this project.


The following was the expected schedule of work to advance 540 / Triangle Expressway Southeast Extension to construction as of March 2011; that timetable has since been delayed subsequent to the passage of legislation in March 2011.

During 2011 – Complete Purpose and Need, Alternatives Screening, Field Surveys May 2012 – Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Feb 2013 – Final EIS Dec 2013 – Record of Decision 2014 – Final corridor determined, financial feasibility details  (Phase I estimated time to complete:  5 years after funding secured)

For more information about the 540 Triangle Expressway from the NC Turnpike Authority, visit:

Triangle Expressway

On July 29, 2009 the Turnpike Authority completed a finance package exceeding $1 billion, allowing for the award of construction contracts to complete 540/Triangle Expressway.  More than five years of Alliance and partner efforts have come to fruition as the largest highway project in State history was awarded to extend the 540/Raleigh Outer Loop to the south and to extend the Durham Freeway south to meet 540.  The entire 16 new miles of turnpike freeway opened in stages in 2011 and 2012.

The Triangle Expressway — which consists of the 147/Triangle Parkway turnpike within Research Triangle Park and the 540/Western Wake Freeway from Cary at NC 55 to the Holly Springs/Apex area at the NC 55 bypass (map) —  is already an essential part of our future transportation backbone. The Triangle Expressway turnpike provides travelers with a mobility option that they may not have otherwise seen for decades, if ever, and will help preserve our area’s economic vitality and quality of life.

We applaud the efforts of the Turnpike Authority, NCDOT, our area MPOs, local elected officials, our member chambers of commerce, state legislators, the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina, the Federal Highway Administration and all of the partners that worked to make a “faster 540” a reality.  The Alliance and our member chambers of commerce have worked to accelerate the completion of this corridor for several years. Our efforts began in spring 2004 with the passing of a series of resolutions to accelerate the Triangle Parkway as a new turnpike in Research Triangle Park.


540 / Triangle Expressway – summary

  • 540 / Western Wake and Triangle Parkway, which together form the proposed Triangle Expressway turnpike, are needed freeway projects for our growing Triangle—the economic engine for much of central and eastern North Carolina.
  • Completing this road — and the nearby Triangle Connector to I-85 — will complete the Research Triangle north-south freeway corridor from the US 1 freeway near Apex (and points south) to Interstate 85 at Durham – (map).
  • The Turnpike Authority reports that this $1.2 billion turnpike freeway will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs, reduce travel times for those who use the new road, and free up other local area roadways from commuting travelers.
  • The NC Legislature provided gap funding in summer 2008 and the initial federal TIFIA loan process was completed by fall 2008.   Unfortunately, the NC Turnpike Authority was not been able to sell the project bonds at that time.
  • To move the turnpike forward, the Authority chose to split the proposed bond offering into an Appropriation Bond (backed by gap funding) and a Revenue Bond (backed by toll revenues); the latter will utilize bond insurance to secure a higher rating.
  • Senate Bill 750 signed in June 2009 will ensure that gap funding remains on the project and will authorize the Authority to extend the life of the bonds under a refinancing should it become necessary.
  • The Federal TIFIA loan process was finalized in July 2009 and the toll revenue bonds were sold on July 13 and 14, 2009.
  • The Turnpike Authority completed its finance package and awarded contracts on July 29, 2009 — allowing 540/Triangle Expressway to advance to construction and marking the largest highway contract award in the history of North Carolina.

540 / Triangle Expressway – added background

  • 540/Triangle Expressway provides nonstop travel for cars, vanpools, buses, and trucks from the Holly Springs Bypass in southwestern Wake County all the way to I-40 at the NC 147/Durham Freeway interchange in the heart of RTP in Durham County.
  • The three mile long Triangle Parkway alone—from I-40 to NC 540 in southern Durham and western Wake counties—is expected to reduce future traffic on I-40 by more than 40,000 vehicles every day.
  • The Research Triangle Foundation has been planning for the Triangle Parkway for more than half a century and has reserved the bulk of the needed right-of-way inside Research Triangle Park.
  • Other states facing similar circumstances have used toll roads as way to meet demand for new construction in high traffic regions.  Austin had zero miles of toll roads open to traffic as recently as summer 2006.  Since that time, more than 70 miles of turnpike freeways have opened to travelers.
  • Other regions in North Carolina are also pursuing turnpikes in order to receive the benefits of faster construction and accelerated congestion relief, so this situation is not unique to the Triangle.

540 / Triangle Expressway – partial timeline