This community and region has planned for the completion of the 540 beltway in southern Wake County for decades. It has enjoyed the support of County and municipal governments for many years, and of course the acceleration of 540 to I-40 has remained the top transportation priority of the regional business community for several years.
It turns out that some of the corridor’s primary supporters and beneficiaries don’t even live in Wake County. It is not hard to see why.
Free-flow 540 will allow communities and counties to the east of Raleigh — including, but not only Johnston — an opportunity to ensure a more reasonable and reliable travel time to jobs, services, etc. in places like Research Triangle Park, Apex, Chatham Park, Durham, Chapel Hill, and portions of Cary and Raleigh. Even for those who do not plan on using 540, it will still relieve congestion on roads like I-40 as well as secondary roads like Ten-Ten, by providing another effective artery. It will also keep the footprint of those secondary roads smaller.
As our population grows and congestion increases at certain times of day, local residents in Wake County may think of increased traffic as a nuisance, and it certainly can diminish our quality of life and negatively impact commerce. However, if you live in one of our more exurban or rural areas, any additional travel time within Wake County due to increased metro congestion (and a lack of reliable, high-speed alternatives like 540) may be the difference between a long but doable commute, and an effectively impossible one for you and your family.
Remember that in many cases the majority, or at a minimum significant minorities, of employed residents within nearby suburban, exurban, and rural counties (e.g., Johnston, Franklin, Harnett, etc.) work in Wake County.
We have previously mentioned that the 540 freeway in southern Wake will become the natural extension of I-42 as it progresses through eastern North Carolina along the existing US 70 corridor. Interstate 42 will become an economic lifeline between the Triangle and many rural areas to the east, linking with I-40 (at exit 309) and 540 (at the same interchange) near the Johnston County border.
The first construction contract to accelerate 540 to I-40 was signed in December, and the bid opening for a contract to build a second section in southern Wake County occurs in a few days.
I was born and raised in a small community in southwestern Pennsylvania, and I know first-hand what geographic deprivation can mean for a community in terms of economic opportunity or decline. For many of our state’s rural areas, mobility and opportunity are inseparable. I am pleased to see 540 move forward for both central and eastern North Carolina, as it truly will help bridge the rural-urban economic divide.
Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA Executive Director