I-540 Orange Route

Kildaire Farm Rd. & Holly Spring Rd. Interchange

540 Orange Route Flyover

Wednesday, February 03, 2016 11:05PM

The state road construction project known as “Complete 540” is one step closer to living up to its name.

The state Department of Transportation has recommended “Alternative 2” for the southern half of the Capitol city’s so-called “Outer Loop.” In layman’s parlance, and for anyone who’s been paying attention, Alternative 2 is made up mostly of the Orange Route west and south of Raleigh, as well as the Green and Mint routes to the east.

DOT project manager Eric Midkiff outlined the plan Wednesday. He said people and property were their primary consideration in selecting the Orange/Green/Mint route.

As is, Midkiff says 281 homes and businesses stand in the way of the project corridor: 271 homes, 6 businesses, 3 non-profits, and 1 farm. But Midkiff says that’s a lot better than their other choices.

“Compared to blue, lilac, purple and red alternatives, there would be 60 percent to 100 percent fewer impacts to homes and businesses,” said Midkiff. “We’re anticipating 281 total impacts to homes and businesses. That’s a very high number and unfortunately, a consequence of major construction projects such as this one.”

“Once a decision is made,” Midkiff continued, “and we have chosen a preferred alternative, then we are going to further refine those designs within that corridor with the goal of minimizing impacts more to homes and businesses. So I fully expect that number to go down.”

But if that’s the upside, a big downside to Alternative 2 could be environmental. “This recommendation would have more wetland impacts,” explained Midkiff.

The Orange Route was problematic a few years ago because of the endangered “dwarf wedgemussle” which lives in waterways along the path. Midkiff says there’s no guarantee that the shell-fish and wetlands in the corridor won’t continue to present a problem.

“We have been working with fish and wildlife throughout this project trying to find ways to improve the viability of the dwarf wedgemussle. There are several environmental studies that have yet to be completed.”

Midkiff says the recommended path still needs buy-in from federal agencies and other stakeholders, and that’s where we could see another sticking point.

“There definitely could be a comment that could sway the decision,” said Midkiff. “At this point I really don’t know.”

The final decision should be made this spring after stakeholders have had a month to weigh in. If it gets the go-ahead, the project could get underway in 2018.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $2.178 billion, of which, state taxpayers will be on the hook for about $1.45 billion. The rest would come from tolls.

That’s right. The southern half – and just the southern half – of NC 540 would be tolled at much the same rate as the existing stretch of the Triangle Expressway south of Durham.

If you want to get in touch with the DOT to see if your property is on the list of homes threatened, there are a number of ways to do that:

Email: Complete540@ncdot.gov

Toll free number: 800-554-7849

Website: http://www.ncdot.gov/projects/complete540/

 

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Now that the state Department of Transportation has spent six years considering the widely reviled Red Route through Garner, environmental regulators appear ready at last to accept DOT’s long-preferred path for extending a six-lane toll road across southern Wake County: the Orange Route.

DOT said Thursday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies have expressed no major concerns about its choice, announced in February, for the 30-mile path that will take the 540 Outer Loop east from Holly Springs to Interstate 40 south of Garner, and then north to Knightdale.

Construction could start in early 2018 on the first leg of the project. It is planned as an extension of the Triangle Expressway toll road in western Wake, and it will complete the 540 Outer Loop.

“We feel like we’re on a pretty good footing now on being able to obtain the necessary permits,” Brian Yamamoto, a DOT engineer overseeing the project, said Thursday.

Thursday’s announcement means the Orange Route has risen in status from the “recommended” to the “preferred” alternative on the long bureaucratic ladder of approval. Still ahead are decisions on how to soften the environmental damage that will come when the highway tramples sensitive wetlands south of Garner and muddies the habitat of an endangered stream creature, the dwarf wedgemussel.

Environmental regulators cited those worries in 2010 when DOT sought approval to build on what later was called the Orange Route. Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said they could not evaluate the proposal unless DOT offered other possible routes for comparison, including alternatives that would steer clear of wetlands and mussel habitat.

Road planners came back with numerous possible paths on a multicolor map. The Red Route would have plowed through Garner – bulldozing subdivisions, parks and churches – while causing the least harm to the natural environment. The legislature passed a law banning construction on the Red Route, and later repealed it – but it was clear that state and local political sentiment would never allow it anyway.

The Orange Route is a 1,000-foot-wide swath DOT marked on planning maps in the 1990s, when it hoped to start construction much sooner on the southern leg of the 540 Outer Loop. Once the new toll road reaches I-40 south of Garner, it would turn north through eastern Wake on paths known as the Green and Mint routes.

A Chapel Hill-based attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center said the Orange Route would cause “irreversible damage to the mussel population” and damage more than 70 acres of wetlands.

“We’re very disappointed about this choice and think it’s an illegal choice that won’t be able to be legally permitted,” attorney Kym Hunter said. The law group also is pressing questions about DOT’s proposed funding for the 540 project, which would require tax dollars to augment toll revenues.

Fish and Wildlife officials could not be reached for comment. Yamamoto said years of study have put the 540 project on solid footing with environmental regulators.

“Now that all of that information has been vetted through our agency partners, there are no issues of concern that are major, any more, with the preferred route,” Yamamoto said. “They seem to be ready to roll up their sleeves to work with us on minimizing the impacts.”

Bruce Siceloff: 919-829-4527, @Road_Worrier

New TriEx interchange to improve access to growing Apex, Holly Springs

Construction began on a new Triangle Expressway interchange April 4

It will provide access to Old Holly Springs-Apex Road

It will encourage more residential and commercial development in southern Apex and western Holly Springs

Home builders already have erected 610 homes since development began, and representatives of Landeavor, the Florida-based developer, expect the neighborhood to be built out in the next 24 to 36 months.

Twelve Oaks is selling a lot faster than they can build them,” said Kendra Parrish, the Town of Holly Springs’ engineering director. The demand, she said, can be attributed at least in part to the nearby Triangle Expressway, which connects Interstate 40 to the N.C. 55 Bypass.

The state’s first modern toll road is expected to generate even more growth in western Holly Springs and southern Apex when a new interchange is constructed just east of U.S. 1, adding access to the Triangle Expressway at Old Holly Springs-Apex Road.

Construction began on the $18.4 million project on April 4. It is on target to be open by mid-December, although additional work will be needed, such as vegetation planting, said Steve Abbott, N.C. Department of Transportation spokesman.

It’s the first new interchange along the Triangle Expressway since its final phase opened in 2013.

Old Holly Springs-Apex Road is a two-lane, rural road, surrounded by acres of undeveloped land. It carried fewer than 2,000 cars per day, as of 2010. By 2035, it will bear the load of nearly 35,000 vehicles, which will be due primarily to planned or anticipated development in southern Apex.

“(The interchange) will improve mobility for current traffic, as well as for much larger volumes of traffic anticipated within the next 10 years as a result of substantial growth/development,” Abbott said.

Growth in Apex

One anticipated project is the 1,100-acre Verideadevelopment that is expected to bring millions of square feet of retail and office space along with 8,000 residential units north of the interchange.

Russell Dalton, the Town of Apex’s transportation engineer, said it would be almost impossible for Veridea to be developed as it is planned now without the interchange.

“It would be a front door from 540 into the Veridea development, so that’s very important to that project,” he said. “Without that, it’s just not very attractive for businesses to come and develop there.”

Apex also can attribute several other anticipated projects to growth prompted by the Triangle Expressway’s construction.

Dalton said the town had seen a lot of residential development in the western part of town, and more rooftops brought more retail and other anticipated mixed-use developments, including Sweetwater and Smith Farm.

The proposed Smith Farm development is a 270-acre mixed-use project. Developers plan to build 430 homes, 170 townhomes and 150 apartments on the land between Olive Chapel Road and U.S. 64, to the west of what will become the Sweetwater neighborhood.

Sweetwater, on 165 acres, will bring a combined 480 homes and townhomes, as well as non-residential construction, like restaurants, offices or shops. Construction is anticipated to begin soon.

Growth in Holly Springs

The new interchange will lie within Apex, but Holly Springs, to the south, will benefit just as much.

“There’s no downside for us,” Parrish said. “It could do good things for Holly Springs.”

Traffic has picked up on the N.C. 55 Bypass since the Triangle Expressway was connected to it in 2013. The connection increased traffic on the bypass, providing additional exposure to an already growing area.

This ultimately led to the development of Holly Springs Towne Center, which now has 30 stores, including a Target, off the bypass.

More commercial and residential development, plus commuters using the N.C. 55 bypass as a cut-through route, has resulted in a heavy traffic during rush hour on that road. Traffic congestion in town has since become one of the biggest concerns of residents and the Town Council.

But the new interchange could pull some cars off the N.C. 55 bypass between the expressway and New Hill Road. For example, 12 Oaks residents could get off the expressway at the new interchange – reducing their trip by several minutes and keeping them off the bypass entirely.

The interchange also will spark investment in western Holly Springs by encouraging more residential and commercial development in the area, where there are still many large pieces of undeveloped land. It also may make existing subdivisions in the area more accessible and desirable, Parrish said.

The town already is in discussions with developers looking to build large, multi-family projects along Old Holly Springs-Apex Road in anticipation of the new interchange, Parrish said.

“We had a developer looking at a tract of land, and it was near there,” she said. “He was going to be able to market his subdivision as minutes from the new interchange to get on 540 to get to (Research Triangle Park).”

Because of the substantial, anticipated growth in western Holly Springs, Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears has encouraged land owners in the area to hold onto it as demand increases for property near the new interchange.

“If you have land around that area, hold onto it for awhile, because your prices should escalate dramatically,” he said. “I would love to have 100 acres right there.”

Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon

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