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Published: Jan 16, 2007 12:30 AM
Modified: Jan 16, 2007 05:38 AM

I-540 link opens today
Motorists look forward to quicker, more seamless commutes to and from North Raleigh on a longer Outer Loop

Workers put the final touches on the span of I-540 from North Raleigh to the U.S. 64/264 Bypass in Knightdale.
Staff Photo by Robert Willett
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RALEIGH - The new nine-mile extension of Interstate 540 promises a faster shot to work, to the airport, or to the beach for thousands of Triangle motorists.

The snip of a ribbon at 11 a.m. today will extend I-540 from Triangle Town Boulevard in North Raleigh to U.S. 64/264 Bypass in Knightdale.

It will make Raleigh's Outer Loop a 26-mile bypass around the north side of the city -- an overdue east-west alternative to I-40 and the Beltline. It will give North Raleigh a smoother, stronger connection to Eastern North Carolina.

Gregory S. Camp, a Rocky Mount attorney, says I-540 will provide a quicker trip to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and to his sister's home off Creedmoor Road.

"So much of Raleigh now is north of downtown that it'll make a big difference there," Camp said. "Just being able to avoid going through the whole Beltline will be great. And I won't have to drive past Carter-Finley Stadium any more to go to a football game in Chapel Hill."

Cathy Gusta bakes cookies in Clayton. She makes deliveries in North Raleigh, visits her bookkeeper on Six Forks Road, and enjoys bicycle trips at Falls Lake. Now she'll take Smithfield Road to Knightdale and catch U.S. 64/264 Bypass and I-540 to North Raleigh.

"Presently, it is arduous to go up Capital Blvd or New Hope Road through long, unending lights and heavy traffic," Gusta said by e-mail. "The Outer Loop will make it a lot easier for us to run our business and to feel more attached to the Raleigh area."

Shoppers from the west side of Raleigh began driving the six-lane freeway to Triangle Town Center when the last new stretch of I-540 opened in August 2002. Now, as the road map changes again, some residents of Eastern North Carolina have the same shopping mall in mind.

Ed Parker of Goldsboro is weary of the drive to North Raleigh on U.S. 70, I-40 and the Beltline. He's ready to consider I-540 as part of an alternate route to Triangle Town Center -- even if it puts a few more miles on his odometer.

"That seems a little out of the way," Parker said by e-mail. "But I wonder if you could make up the time due to no stoplights and higher speed limits."

Yes, you could, Vick Moore says.

Moore makes frequent weekend trips to the coastal town of Beaufort. He says I-540 is the final link in a fast freeway connection from North Raleigh to Goldsboro.

Instead of slogging down Six Forks Road to the Beltline, I-40 and U.S. 70, Moore will start his beach trip on I-540. He'll pick up U.S. 64/264 Bypass in Knightdale and U.S. 117 in Wilson. That means no red lights until he picks up U.S. 70 in Goldsboro.

"It cuts out about 15 stoplights and quite a bit of traffic going through Clayton and all that," Moore said. "A lot of people haven't discovered that yet."

Jeff F. Cherry of North Raleigh is waiting to discover whether the new Outer Loop link will make any of his trips easier. He's a "tweener," he says, living midway between the new I-540 Outer Loop and the old I-440 Beltline.

"I have to drive through almost as many lights traveling north to 540 as traveling south to 440," Cherry said by e-mail. "I'll do the comparison when it opens."

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