::New Interstate 540 Portion Now Open
By Elliott West, Raleigh Chronicle News Editor
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
RTP, NC - Although not finished, the a new portion of Interstate 540 is now open on the southern side of the intersection with Interstate 40, although not without some problems and controversy over the project.
Commuters in the area can now take the new southern portion of the I-540 stretch to connect to Davis Drive, Highway 54, or Highway 55 just past Research Triangle Park (RTP).
The four lane highway extends I-540 another five miles and it dead-ends at the Highway 55 exit. Earlier this year, the northern loop of Interstate 540 was opened all the way to the intersection of Highway 64 and 264 near Knightdale which makes a four lane connection to Greenville.
Technically, the new portion of 540 is not actually designated as an interstate. The road has signs labelling it as NC 540 since it may later become a toll road.
The proposal to make new parts of 540 south of the current end of the road has been controversial.
Proponents of a toll road on yet to be built southern loop portions of 540 to Garner and Apex say it would bring in much needed funding for the project, allowing it to be built much sooner than if paid for by regular highway funds.
Those opposed to the toll road that would connect many southern Wake County communities to RTP and Interstate 40 via the highway say it's not fair. Opponents ask why their portion of 540 would be a toll road while drivers on the northern Raleigh section of 540 do not have to pay anything at all.
In addition, although toll booths have been proposed on the North Carolina-Virginia border on Interstate 95, there are currently no operating toll roads in the entire state of North Carolina.
As such, there is a lot of reluctance on the part of state legislators to approve a toll road that would tax drivers who are predominantly North Carolina citizens, rather than drivers who are "passing through" the state.
The 540 opening also has some drivers miffed about a change to the exit ramp from the northern Raleigh portions of 540 onto Interstate 40.
Previously, drivers who were going onto Interstate 40 east had their own lane and didn't have to wait in line with drivers who were going onto I-40 west, where the lane frequently backed up.
Now with the opening of the new portion of 540, one lane has been eliminated and drivers for both I-40 west and I-40 east are corralled into the same lane adding even more traffic to the already busy lane during commuting times.
One person told the Raleigh Chronicle that every day they had to wait several minutes just to get onto I-40 west during rush hour and that was even before the changes took place eliminating the extra lane.
As a result, some people have actually found that instead of waiting in line from 540's northern traffic pattern, it is actually faster to continue on 540 onto the new portion and then turn around via another exit up the road and then come back down to get onto Interstate 40 from the other direction. ::