DOT's Hwy 55 plan 'makes no sense' to some Apex residents

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The I-Team looks at concerns with the NC 55 widening project.

Ask around down in Apex and you will likely get this unanimous assessment: Highway 55 is a nightmare these days. And people will tell you, it's not just at commute times. It's all the time.

That's why, for several years, the town has applied for funding from the Department of Transportation to widen and make improvements along the two mile stretch from U.S. 1 to Olive Chapel Road.

They finally got it.

Tuesday, the DOT rolled out initial plans for a new project that would start in 2021 or 2022 and would make that stretch of Highway 55 a four-lane road. Most of it anyway. And that's what got most people talking at the DOT's informational session at Town Hall.

"This. This makes no sense," said Maggie O'Keefe from Apex, looking at the map. "The hour glass." She was pointing to a purple section in the center of a massive map laid out on a table. "You're still feeding into one lane each way."

A look at the project and a closer view of the Morrisville project.

CLICK HERE FOR A CLOSER LOOK AT TRIANGLE EXPRESSWAY PROJECT MAP (.pdf)
CLICK HERE FOR A CLOSER LOOK AT MORRISVILLE PARKWAY MAP (.pdf)

O'Keefe and just about everyone the I-Team talked to said they have major concerns about the fact that - in the current project - there are no plans to widen Highway 55 under the CSX train tracks.

"I believe this project will solve most of the problem, but there is a companion project that needs to move forward, which will include the replacement of the bridge for the CSX railroad," said Apex Mayor Lance Olive.

And Olive says CSX has no interest spending money to rebuild a currently functional rail line.

Joey Hopkins, a Division Engineer with the DOT says that's not exactly the case. He says they're in early conversations with CSX about replacing and widening that bridge, but he says the project should go forward without it.

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Hopkins also said a study done in the last few years looked at that bridge and determined that leaving it as is wouldn't be detrimental to the overall flow of traffic.

"Looking at it from a traffic standpoint, this did not show to be a bottleneck. What we really showed to be a bottle neck is anywhere there's a traffic signal," Hopkins said.

The construction of 540 was supposed to alleviate some of the problems on its companion road of Highway 55, but longtime residents say they don't see much benefit; at least, on the stretch of road being considered for the project.

Hopkins maintained the numbers show differently.

"It has helped to pull traffic off 55 but we've still got growth," he said.

In fact, the DOT's annual report shows tens of thousands of cars using 540 every day.

Olive says he's also worried about right-of-way issues and construction headaches, but says the project is critical for the area's long-term development.

"I think it will be enough to satisfy that section of 55's problems," he said.

WANT TO WEIGH IN?

Residents who wish to comment or ask questions can reach out to:

Zahid Baloch
NC Dept. of Transportation
(919) 707-6012 or email: zbaloch@ncdot.gov

Candice Andre
VHB Engineering
(919) 741-5346 or email: candre@vhb.com

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