A recent Regional Transportation Alliance priority became a success with the focus and partnership of North Carolina Department of Transportation, Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the regional business community. In 2007, NCDOT was advocating to widen the I-40 freeway between Cary and Raleigh from two to four lanes each way (four to eight lanes total). The project also eliminated the “inner” and “outer” beltline designations that have vexed residents and visitors alike. It was then determined that NCDOT could not afford the cost.

RTA immediately suggested a smaller, six-lane widening for that location—the most congested bottleneck in the Triangle—rather than risking having the money being reallocated to another project. RTA volunteer, Kimley-Horn, amongst others, worked on a cost estimate and presented it to the DOT and CAMPO for their review and approval. The concept was included on CAMPO’s priority list and the NC Board of Transportation approved the widening of I-40 at their June 5, 2008 meeting, with construction anticipated by November 2009 – years earlier than expected as the project moved from unfunded to fully-funded status.  In February 2009, the I-40 Cary/Raleigh widening project letting date was advanced to June 2009 – accelerating the project by approximately five more months.

On July 1, 2009, the NC Department of Transportation signed the I-40 Cary/Raleigh widening contract, and substantial completion occurred earlier this month—less than two years later. The speed limit remained at 65 MPH during construction, and overhead conveyors and other devices were used to keep traffic moving. Triangle residents, commuters, and others traveling on I-40 are now able to use three lanes in each direction, along with the bridges built for 4-lanes each way in the future.

Interstate 40 — the Triangle’s “Main Street” — is also our most critical freeway.  Current traffic volumes exceed 140,000 per day near Research Triangle Park and 130,000 per day near RDU airport. Between Cary and Raleigh, traffic volumes are approximately 100,000 vehicles per day—far above the capacity of the freeway in this area, and leading to an evening rush hour that can last for three hours eastbound.

The short term improvement to widen I-40 is a remarkable project in both execution as well as completion, and a great victory for the Chamber and the RTA, leaving the region as the real winner, greatly relieving the most congested bottleneck on our region’s freeway system.