Cary, NC – Local business leaders and town officials got the latest information on transportation projects around Wake County, including the latest news about construction on the 540 beltway.
Highways and Road Work
Joe Milazzo II, executive director of the Regional Transportation Alliance, spoke at the Cary Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, September 4, 2019 and laid out the organization’s current top five priorities:
- Connecting 540 to I-40
- Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s master plan
- Improving public transportation
- Reducing freeway congestion
- Creating innovative mobility solutions
For #1, Milazzo repeatedly urged support of this year’s transportation bond. Financing has been the main obstacle for this project, he said, but it is helped by the fact that it has a toll road and this bond will also go a long way to complete that financing.
“540 has been a labor of love since 2011,” Milazzo said. “We’re close, but as you know, until it’s under construction, it’s not under construction.”
Milazzo had good news as well, ascost projections now are less than earlier engineer estimates. Completing work on 540 will relieve pressure on Ten-Ten Road, he added.
While work on 540, US-1 and I-440 is going forward, many other highway projects have been delayed, due to a mix of both the financial strain of recent storms and overall growth and demand, according to Milazzo. During the meeting, he was asked specifically about US-64 and Milazzo said work is delayed until 2024.
As for I-440, Milazzo said that will be a four-year project and work will make the already-narrow highway even more cramped and slow.
“I would advise taking another route until that’s done, or have some relaxing music in your car,” Milazzo said.
Milazzo also talked about some new road practices being rolled out in Cary to ease traffic. One of which is having left turn lights flash during non-peak hours. This is currently in place on Cary Parkway, near the Arboretum, and has been going on for roughly a month. Another is “dynamic left turn lanes,” where far lanes with a blind turn are deactivated at certain times, similar to the way the lanes around PNC Arena in Raleigh have the green and red lights above them during a game or concert.
While 540 is the Regional Transportation Alliance’s top priority, Milazzo said RDU’s master plan is very close behind, dubbing it “1A.” RDU’s passengers have grown 42 percent since 2011. Between 7 and 8 AM, the airport has roughly 3,000 people coming through security each day.
The problem is, earlier projections stated that RDU would get to 7.1 million passengers by 2031. Instead, RDU is has hit that number now.
“They have $862 million in deferred projects. Their master plan is 12 years behind,” Milazzo said. “They’re looking at a capital shortfall of $1.1 to 1.8 billion.”
In transportation closer to the ground, Milazzo said plans are in place for eight bus rapid transit (BRT) routes in Wake County, costing about $100 million in total. They will all be completed by 2027, with the first one opening along New Burn Avenue. For Cary, the exact route has not yet been decided but Council Member Ken George was in attendance and suggested Fenton’s opening could impact that decision.
Not only does BRT move faster to its destination because of fewer stops, but Milazzo said these buses will be designed to be easier to step on and off of, passengers will be able to pay in advance to get right on the bus and they may have dedicated lanes.
“Even if you think public buses are a horrible Communist plot, you should like this because it means they will be faster and not stop as much,” he said.
With new buses, Milazzo said having only electric buses, as Greensboro now has, should be the goal, and he called electrifying all vehicles “the future.”
One other potential mass transit option is the hyperloop, which was the subject of a Regional Transportation Alliance talk earlier this Summer.
“You’ll see more of this sooner than you think,” Milazzo said.
On the subject of transportation, WalletHub just ranked Raleigh as the best city to drive in the entire country, despite all of this concern. Other cities must be pretty bad.
Story by Michael Papich. Photos by Hal Goodtree and Raleigh-Durham International Airport.