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Construction that could double travel times on the southern Beltline is still almost a year away, but Raleighs tourism sector is already gearing up for the traffic mess. They want to make sure the project doesnt cause events and visitors to take a detour.
For three years starting next summer, crews will be rebuilding the southern Beltline from U.S. 1/64 on the edge of Cary to the U.S. 64/264 Knightdale bypass. Its not a simple repaving project: 11 miles of Interstate 40 and 440 will get new concrete and asphalt from the ground up.
The extensive work will at times cut the busy highway to just two lanes in each direction, with estimates that rush-hour trips on the stretch could take twice as long.
On Tuesday, the N.C. Department of Transportation begged business owners to help get the word out. You need to let your folks know how to get around this, DOT spokeswoman Leah Friedman said.
Theres no official detour, so drivers are on their own to avoid the mess whether thats taking the northern half of I-440, I-540 or a series of back roads. Thats manageable for locals, less so for out-of-town visitors who sometimes struggle to find the citys downtown.
Its our job to let the (event) attendees know what the alternate routes are, said Dennis Edwards, president of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Prepared for worst
The bureau already has a committee to make sure sports tournaments, conventions and other events go off without a hitch during the three-year project. The group plans to post the latest traffic updates on its website.
A lot of its just communication, Edwards said, adding that he doesnt think Raleigh will lose events because of the gridlock. I think were prepared for the worst.
The biggest challenge, Edwards says, will be bringing sports fans from the PNC Arena, Wallace Wade Stadium and WakeMed Soccer Park downtown for restaurants and hotels. Some might head to Cary or North Raleigh instead of braving backups on I-40 or Wade Avenue after a game.
The visitors bureau and other Raleigh booster groups have already won one battle: DOT has agreed to scale back the projects nickname Crawleigh. The boosters had worried the moniker which beat out Southern Discomfort and Carmuda Triangle in online voting might accidentally rebrand the entire city as a sluggish place.
DOT officials hope gridlock will fall short of expectations. To that end, the contractor that gets the $168 million project will face a series of requirements:
Limited closings: Lanes can only be closed for three-mile stretches. Because many drivers will use I-440 as an alternative, crews cant simultaneously close lanes in the same direction on both I-40 and the projects section of I-440 in Southeast Raleigh.
Project monitor: The contractor will hire a travel demand manager who will monitor backups and order changes in the project if things get too slow. The DOT will install electronic signs showing updated travel times for I-40 compared with alternate routes. N.C. States Institute for Transportation Research and Education has developed a computer model to estimate impacts on major routes as well as secondary roads such as Rock Quarry Road and Jones Sausage Road. The complex model uses 16 computer hard drives.
Dealing with accidents: Because traffic will be squeezed between concrete barriers, crashes will mean things are going to clog up very quickly, DOT engineer Wally Bowman said. Crews will have a tow truck on call within 20 minutes to clear accidents. Emergency pull-off areas will be set up for each mile of highway.