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Big News! Complete 540 highway project ahead of schedule

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December 22, 2017
Big News! Complete 540 highway project ahead of schedule 
 
By Lauren K. Ohnesorge  –  Senior Staff Writer, Triangle Business Journal

For full article in Triangle  Business Journal
 
Officials have signed off on the final environmental impact statement for a project known as Complete 540 – and it’s ahead of schedule.
 
Initially, the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s N.C. Turnpike Authority had expected to receive Federal Highway Administration approval for the document in mid-2018.
 
The just-obtained FHA approval is a key step toward the construction of the final section of the $2.2 billion project, which will extend the Triangle Expressway from the N.C. 55 Bypass in Apex to the U.S. 64/U.S. 264 Bypass in Knightdale, completing the 540 Outer Loop around the greater Raleigh area.
 
Officials say the project, if built, will link the towns of Apex, Cary, Clayton, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Holly Springs and Raleigh.
 
Why it matters:
 
Danna Widmar, director of special projects with the town of Cary, says that, by pulling traffic off of heavily-trafficked roads such as I-440 and I-40, the project could speed up commutes throughout the Triangle.
 
“It’s a congestion relief element that does impact, basically, right through the center of the region, so providing this alternative is really going to be helpful for Cary, Raleigh, everybody,” Widmar says.
 
 
Joe Milazzo, executive director of the Regional Transportation Alliance calls the project "critical" for the future of regional mobility.
 
“It helps build a reliant highway network for our market now and as we grow,” he says.
 
Economic development consultant and retired Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce CEO Harvey Schmitt says the Complete 540 project opens up the southern part of Wake County for expanded development and new commercial, industrial and office opportunities.
 
When recruiting companies, infrastructure is a critical selling point, he explains.
 
“People want to be able to get their workers in and out or their products in and out," he says. "And just as important is quality of life. People move here for the quality – they don’t want to get stuck in traffic... You want the people who sign up to move here today to have largely the same experience that they have now, 20 years from now.”
 
In 2017 alone, multiple major job announcements have happened in Wake County all with the potential to bring more commuters to the highways. A variety of companies have zeroed in on the Triangle, from Infosys, which is bringing a 2,000-job tech hub to Raleigh to Conduent, a Xerox spin-out which recently announced plans to hire 200 new positions in Morrisville.
 
Investments in projects like Complete 540 shows officials are thinking about the future, Schmitt says.
 
But the project is still a monumental effort - and one that will require much more planning in the days to come, transportation officials say.
 
What's next:
 
For the overall project, the state now expects 217 relocations, five of which are businesses. Rodger Rochelle, director of business affairs for the N.C. Turnpike Authority, says that, from a relocation standpoint, it’s actually the “least impactful” of the alternatives his agency evaluated.
 
“Keep in mind, this study is for a project that’s nearly 30 miles long and completes 540 – that’s a lot of project,” he says.
 

Beau Memory, executive director for the N.C. Turnpike Authority, says that, as the approval was just obtained Thursday, it’s hard to say when the next phase of the project could break ground.
 
He expects the told to “largely be in line with where the Triangle Expressway is.”
 
His team plans to use the environmental reviews targeted for 2018, as well as public comments, to create documentation for a Record of Decision, the last federal approval that will be required for the project to break ground.
 
“This is a critical milestone in the sense that this prepares us to go back out to the public a final time and get their comments," Memory says of the latest approval.
For comments to be included as part of the public record for the Final Environmental Impact Statement comment period, they must be received by February 1, 2018.