Last week’s RTA 17th annual meeting — by far our largest ever, with well north of 400 people — provided us with a lot to celebrate. 540 has advanced to the brink of construction, RDU Airport is on a tear, bus rapid transit has accelerated, and more.
All is not well on the mobility and funding front in our beloved Triangle. Or at least not 100% well.
We noted that the new draft state transportation plan is frankly brutal from a scheduling standpoint. A number of vital priorities of the regional business community — and our region — are delayed, with several of those delays significant.
Two conversion to freeway projects — for portions of US 1 north and US 70 between Raleigh and Durham — have been delayed by three years. A similar project for portions of US 64 west has been delayed by two years.
Widening of Wade Avenue freeway? Two year delay. Improvements to the US 1 interchange with I-40? One year delay. Widening portions of I-40 in south Raleigh, and NC 147 in RTP? One year delay. Creation of express shoulder lanes for I-540? Indefinite delay.
Brutal, indeed. And with rising costs, things may not get better any time soon.
So what can the regional business community do, in concert with NCDOT and our regional partners? Here are five thoughts:
One, we can shine a spotlight on this issue of significant delays to significant projects. We did that at last week’s annual meeting, and we are doing it again with this week’s blog.
Two, we can applaud NCDOT for still keeping the preparation of the various projects moving forward. The Department is keeping the project planning schedule from the earlier, better timelines, in case new money comes available.
Three, the regional business community can suggest ways to prioritize projects for potential schedule acceleration. While we may not make specific schedule recommendations on a project-by-project basis, we can certainly point out that “conversion to freeway” projects that remove traffic signals will provide all-day benefits — since stoplights make you stop whether it is rush hour or not — while the benefits of freeway widening projects are primarily limited to peak periods.
Translation: while every delayed project is important, the completion of the US 1, 70, and 64 conversion to freeway projects are more essential to our resilient freeway system — plus they are also the more challenging ones to complete — so accelerating those first would make sense.
Four, we can potentially offer suggestions to reduce the costs of various projects, to help move them up, or at least to ensure they remain viable. While we don’t have any particular ideas in mind yet, we might going forward.
Five, we can highlight the need to dedicate additional revenue for mobility, particularly in our growing areas. Of course, the draft TIP has done a way too good job of highlighting that brutal reality…
The bottom line is this: The funding and implementation of key projects is simply not where we need it to be. This situation has become an unexpected but vital focus of the RTA in 2019.
With focus and Courage, I am confident that we will get to where we need to be.
Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA Executive Director
post reference: th3.2019.05