– by Joe Milazzo, RTA Executive Director

The regional business community is focused on accelerating the completion of 540 from its current terminus at Holly Springs south and east to I-40 at the US 70/Clayton Bypass. This future freeway corridor is the top transportation priority for our organization, and it will remain so until it is under construction.

Completion of this section of the 540 Raleigh Outer Loop will provide free-flow mobility across Wake County, create vital linkages to major roadways in the Triangle, and provide a more resilient roadway network for commuting, commerce, and overall travel.

Our current experience with the “Fortify” I-40 reconstruction project in south Raleigh – and the unexpected congestion challenges facing our Atlanta neighbors this spring – speak to the importance of developing a resilient freeway network.

While the impacts of Fortify reconstruction in south Raleigh have not been as bad as some had feared a few years ago, it has still been a long slog, and the project remains one in which a single crash can disrupt up the entire highway system in the southeastern Triangle.

Had 540 been in place in southern Wake, we would have had an alternative route available. As things currently stand, we are still waiting for final project approvals for 540.

How long have we been waiting? Let’s look at some of the history of this project:

  • Late 2009 – NCDOT began the environmental study for 540 in southern Wake County
  • March-April 2010 – NCDOT project newsletter for the southeast extension projected a final environmental approval in 2013, with construction beginning in 2014
  • March 2011 – legislation restricting NCDOT’s ability to study certain corridor options was signed into law
  • June 2013 – successful repeal of legislation restricting NCDOT’s ability to study certain corridor options
  • July 2013 – immediately after repeal of the legislation associated with the “red” route – the project website showed final environmental approval in fall 2016, with construction beginning in spring 2018

Now, in spring 2017, the project website is calling for final approval of environmental documents in 2019 – fully ten years since the study began.

The reality is that this project study has taken much too long. While the 2011-13 legislative corridor restrictions created an obvious setback by suspending work on the project for more than two years, the 540 timeline has slipped an additional 2-4 years over the life of the study. All told, construction is now slated to begin in 2020, which is more than 5 years later than the schedule published in the 2010 project newsletter.

Fortunately, things are looking up. Earlier this spring, lead RTA volunteers met with NCDOT Secretary Jim Trogdon and NC Turnpike Authority Executive Director Beau Memory about the potential for accelerating this vital project.

We had a very positive and promising discussion, with the Secretary noting that he will be seeking to accelerate the project by more than a year. In addition, we learned that NCDOT was in the process of moving coordination authority for the project to the NC Turnpike Authority division of NCDOT. Having the Turnpike lead project efforts will provide improved accountability, and the Turnpike Authority’s enterprise orientation will help provide the necessary focus for a faster project timeline.

The regional business community applauds Secretary Trogdon and Executive Director Memory for their leadership to Accelerate 540.

Let’s get moving,

Joe

Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA Executive Director