CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the afternoon peak hours and the number of lanes on Interstate 40. Peak hours during the afternoon are between 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and the highway currently has two lanes. In addition, the article incorrectly stated how many lanes currently exist between the I-85 and I-40 conjunction. Interstate 40 has one less lane than I-85 on each side. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation is set to expand Interstate 40 by one additional lane in both directions through a $236 million contract with the Lane Construction Corporation.
The lane additions will occur between Interstate 85 and the Durham County line. About 11.5 miles of I-40 on that stretch will be widened to six lanes.
According to a press release by the NCDOT, "the project also includes modifying interchanges along this stretch.”
Aaron Moody, an NCDOT communications officer, said the current congestion is due to the lack of an extra lane in each direction between I-85 and I-40.
“In the exact stretch that we're going to widen, from the Interstate 85 split up in Hillsborough down to the Durham County line, Interstate 40 loses one lane, at least,” he said.
Construction is projected to begin in 2022 and conclude in 2025, according to the press release.
“There's a traffic volume need there that led this project to be prioritized for an additional lane to be added in either direction,” Moody said. “Particularly at peak times at peak travel hours, there became a congestion issue.”
Anya Sukhadolskaya, a Wake Technical Community College student who lives in Cary, drives down I-40 frequently.
“I personally try to avoid I-40 at all costs during rush hour, as I expect to sit in traffic,” she said. “The lane widening could be helpful in preventing the stand-still traffic I try so hard to avoid.”
Ashley Logue, a UNC sophomore, uses I-40 to visit her family.
"I am excited about the project because I think I-40 would be less congested with more lanes and get everyone where they need to be," Logue said. "It will probably be super annoying while it’s done and take way too long, but hopefully it will help the flow of traffic once it’s done."
When construction begins, the regular flow of traffic could potentially be impacted, Moody said.
“It's possible that they'll have some lane closures as needed," he said. "It's also possible that they'll be working only in stretches. It can be variable throughout the project.”
The potential for future lane closures as construction kicks off could impact drivers in the region.
“I will most likely find myself being frustrated with the construction,” Sukhadolskaya said. “Work zones cause a decrease in the speed limit, so this could make my commute even longer.”
Moody said the flow of traffic will depend on how traffic management is set up while working.
“There will likely be times when construction demands that they're working, needing to get in and out of their construction zone and needing to shut down a lane for a particular segment,” he said. “But there'll likely be other times when they're able to maintain the current lanes that are open on either side of the highway.”
According to Moody, construction will be limited during morning and evening rush hours.
“We leave work during peak hours where at all possible, generally 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. roughly,” he said.
Moody said that construction will likely be done in smaller segments.
“That happens on projects all over the place, where they work on a particular segment, and they're able to keep traffic in its current pattern of two lanes at any given time,” he said.
Though not optimistic about the construction period, Sukhadolskaya said she is looking forward to driving down the renovated road.
“Construction for a three-year period will cause frustration from many frequent drivers of I-40,” she said. “On the other hand, having six lanes will most likely increase the flow of traffic, which will allow for a faster as well as easier commute.”
NCDOT urges all drivers to comply with traffic signs and remain alert along I-40 during construction.