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Interstate 540 (North Carolina)

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Interstate 540 and North Carolina Highway 540 marker Interstate 540 and North Carolina Highway 540 marker

Interstate 540 and North Carolina Highway 540

Raleigh Outer Loop
I-540 highlighted in red; open section of NC 540 in purple; unopened section in orange
Route information
Auxiliary route of I-40
Maintained by NCDOT
Length42.2 mi[1][2][3] (67.9 km)
I-540: 25.84 mi (41.59 km)[4]
NC 540: 16.4 mi (26.4 km)
  • I-540 (Durham–Knightdale)
  • NC 540 (Apex–Durham)
Major junctions
Beltway around Raleigh
Major intersections
CountryUnited States
StateNorth Carolina
CountiesDurham, Wake
Highway system
NC 522 NC 561

Interstate 540 (I-540) and North Carolina Highway 540 (NC 540) are part of a partially completed beltway around the city of Raleigh in the US state of North Carolina, forming the Raleigh Outer Loop. When complete, the route will completely encircle the city, meeting its parent route of I-40 in two locations.

The initial phase of construction is designated I-540 and was completed in January 2007. It runs from I-40 near the Raleigh–Durham International Airport to I-87/U.S. Highway 64 (US 64)/US 264 south of Knightdale. The original plan was for the entire route to be designated as part of the Interstate Highway System, renumbering the route to I-640 when the beltway was complete; however, the NCDOT announced in 2002 that I-540 would not be renumbered in the future.[5][6] When it became financially unfeasible to construct the entire route with public funds within a reasonable timeframe, it was decided that the remaining portion of the route (approximately two-thirds of the total completed mileage) would be constructed as a toll road and designated as a North Carolina highway rather than an Interstate Highway. The tolled portion is known as the Triangle Expressway. The first section of NC 540 was opened in July 2007, extending westward from the western terminus of I-540. Further extensions have carried NC 540 around the western side of Wake County to its current southwestern terminus south of Apex. Future projects are planned to complete the southern leg, from Apex to Garner, and eastern leg, from Garner to Knightdale, under the same toll system. In particular, the portion south of Garner has been held up due to conflicting interests in choosing a path for the route. The southern extension is currently under construction and is expected to be completed in summer 2024. Construction on the eastern extension is projected to begin around the time the southern extension is opened with a completion date of 2028.

Route description[edit]

When completed, the beltway will total 70 miles (110 km) in length, surrounding the city of Raleigh and the towns of Apex, Cary, Garner, and Morrisville. The designation from I-540 and NC 540 happens at I-40, in Durham County, where I-540 goes east and NC 540 goes west.

The beltway is further broken down into four segments:

Segment Name Designation Location Length
Northern Wake Expressway I-540 NC 54 to I-87/US 64/US 264 29 mi (47 km)
Western Wake Freeway NC 540 NC 54 in Cary to NC 55 south of Apex 12.4 mi (20.0 km)
Southern Wake Expressway (under construction; estimated completion Spring 2024) NC 540 NC 55 to I-40 near Garner 16.5 mi (26.6 km)
Eastern Wake Expressway (construction to start in Spring 2024; estimated completion 2028) NC 540 I-40 to I-87/US 64/US 264 12.9 mi (20.8 km)
Total 70.8 mi (113.9 km)

Interstate 540[edit]

The I-540 portion begins at an interchange designated as exit 1 near I-40 (I-40 exit 283B) near the Raleigh–Durham International Airport, located right at the Durham–Wake county line. It travels northeast to Aviation Parkway (exit 2), then turns east along the southside of the Brier Creek neighborhood, with interchanges at Lumley Road (exit 3) and US 70 (exit 4). After crossing US 70, I-540 travels eastward across the mostly residential areas of North Raleigh, with several exits with major arterial roads, including Leesville Road (exit 7), NC 50/Creedmoor Road (exit 9), Six Forks Road (exit 11), and Falls of Neuse Road (exit 14). Turning southeast, there is a complex interchange with US 1/Capital Boulevard (exit 16) and Triangle Town Boulevard (exit 17), which provide access to the Triangle Town Center shopping mall and commercial district along Capital Boulevard. Shortly after the interchange with US 401/Louisburg Road (exit 18), I-540 crosses the Neuse River and then turns south towards Knightdale. I-540 immediately has an interchange with Buffaloe Road (exit 20). I-540 continues south paralleling both the Neuse River and Forestville Road. As I-540 enters Knightdale, it has an interchange with U.S. Highway 64 Business (US 64 Bus.)/Knightdale Boulevard (exit 24). About two miles (3.2 km) after the US 64 Bus. interchange, I-540 has its western terminus at I-87/US 64/US 264 (exit 26), though the roadway continues on for a short distance, and several ghost ramps indicate the planned connection to the rest of the loop.[7][8]

North Carolina Highway 540[edit]

NC 540 is the designation given to the Western Wake Expressway and future Southern Wake Expressway and Eastern Wake Expressway. The Western Wake Expressway also forms a portion of the Triangle Expressway toll road complex. The current terminus is at NC 55 just south of Apex at exit 54. At this point, the road is heading due west and has two quick interchanges with Veridea Road (exit 55) and US 1 (exit 56) after turning to the northwest. Exit 56 connects to Salem Street, connecting to downtown Apex, while exit 59 connects to US 64 near the Beaver Creek Shopping Center. Now heading due north and between Green Level Church Road (to the west) and NC 55 (to the east), the road skirts the western edge of Cary, with interchanges at Green Level Road (exit 62) and Morrisville Parkway (exit 64). Just north of the former community of Carpenter (since annexed by Cary) is a second interchange with NC 55 (exit 66). The Triangle Expressway toll road leaves NC 540 at exit 67 to follow NC 885, leaving a short free segment of NC 540 to connect to I-540, along which there is a single interchange with NC 54 (exit 69) before meeting I-40 at exit 1 and continuing on as I-540.


No portion of I-540 is tolled. All of NC 540 is tolled except the short segment between I-40 and NC 54. Tolls are implemented by electronic toll collection (ETC) and are enforced by video cameras. Several gantries are located along the route and entrance/exit ramps, where they collect toll via the NC Quick Pass or other interoperable ETC systems. Those that do not participate in the ETC program will receive a bill in the mail and will have 30 days from the date on said bill before additional fees and civil penalties are applied.[9]


I-540 West, near Knightdale

Planning for the highway originally started in the early 1970s; by 1976, the "Northern Wake Expressway" was added to the planning map. In the mid-1980s, realizing that the growth in western Wake County may require more roads than planned, highway planners decided to expand the project as a new beltway around Raleigh. In 1992, construction began on the first three-mile (4.8 km) section of the Northern Wake Expressway, connecting I-40 with US 70. On January 21, 1997, the freeway opened as I-540.[10][unreliable source?][11][unreliable source?]

In the following 10 years, the now known Northern Wake Freeway (so not to be confused with the Triangle Expressway) made several extensions:

  • December 11, 1999: From US 70/Glenwood Avenue (exit 4) to Leesville Road (exit 7).[12]
  • December 21, 2000: From Leesville Road (exit 7) to NC 50/Creedmoor Road (exit 9).[13]
  • June 29, 2001: From NC 50/Creedmoor Road (exit 9) to Falls of Neuse Road (exit 14).[14]
  • August 12, 2002: From Falls of Neuse Road (exit 14) to US 1/Capital Boulevard/Triangle Town Boulevard (exit 16).[15]
  • January 16, 2007: From Triangle Town Boulevard (exit 17) to US 64/US 264/Knightdale Bypass (exit 26).[16][17]

From 1999 to 2002, each additional section of the freeway was designated as Future 540, until it connected with US 1.

On July 14, 2007, a section of the loop from I-40 west to NC 54 and NC 55 was opened.[18] However, the route is signed not as I-540 but as NC 540. Officials decided to change the designation in early July at the urging of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority (NCTA). Work on the western and southern portions of the beltway, if paid for by state funds, would possibly not open until 2030. At the request of several Wake County mayors, the NCTA in 2006 began studying the use of tolls to complete these portions of the Outer Loop.

The Authority concluded in early 2007 that it would be financially feasible to build the western section (along with an extended Durham Freeway, which combined would be called the "Triangle Expressway") using toll funds. The NCTA apparently never wanted an Interstate designation for the Western Wake Parkway. To lessen motorist confusion about where I-540 ended, the route was truncated to the I-40 interchange. All I-540 signs that were put up along the unopened stretch between I-40 and NC 55 were taken down in early July 2007; the new section is now signed as NC 540.[19] (In addition, I-540 as a completed loop would violate the Interstate numbering convention regarding three-digit routes, as spurs begin with an odd number and loops with an even number, and, at one point, I-640—the last remaining available number within the state, as I-240, I-440, and I-840 are already taken—was proposed for the loop.)[11]

Work to build the Western Wake Freeway, which would be renamed the "Western Wake Parkway" under the toll proposal, began August 12, 2009, with the Triangle Parkway portion opening in December 2011, and Western Wake portion scheduled to open in two phases in 2012.[20][21]

In October 2008, the authority was unable to issue bonds to fund the Western Wake Turnpike project as planned due to market conditions affecting municipal bonds such as those.[22] On July 29, 2009, the Authority closed on a revised $1.01-billion (equivalent to $1.39 billion in 2023[23]) bond plan, consisting of $270 million (equivalent to $373 million in 2023[23]) in toll revenue bonds,[24] $353 million (equivalent to $487 million in 2023[23]) in Build America Bonds,[25] and a $387-million (equivalent to $534 million in 2023[23]) loan from the US Department of Transportation under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.[26][27]

Groundbreaking was held on August 12, 2009, at the west end of I-540. "A dozen dignitaries" used shovels painted gold as 150 watched.[28]

After work began on Western Wake Parkway in 2009, engineering and environmental studies began a year later for the Southern and Eastern Wake Freeways, also known as the Triangle Expressway Southeast Extension. Construction would begin in 2014 and be completed by 2019; however, it was delayed in March 2011 by the enactment of North Carolina Session Law 2011-7 (N.C. S.L. 2011–7), which forbade the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to consider a few alternative routes.[29][30][31][32]

In 2010, NCDOT made an interchange improvement at I-540/I-40, adding another auxiliary lane from I-540 south to I-40 west at a cost of $4.8 million (equivalent to $6.55 million in 2023[23]).[33]

The completed Triangle Parkway, the first section of the Triangle Expressway, with its connection to NC 540, opened on December 8, 2011, reestablishing exit 67.[34] Collection of tolls began on January 3, 2012.[35] On August 1, 2012, the first phase of the Western Wake Freeway opened, connecting NC 55 in Morrisville (exit 66) to US 64 in Apex. The next day tolling began on the previously open section from NC 54 to NC 55.[3] The final phase of the tolled section of NC 540, from US 64 to NC 55 north of Holly Springs, opened on December 20, 2012. Tolling for this section began January 2, 2013.[36] On April 3, 2017, the Veridea Parkway interchange (exit 55; formally known as Old Holly Springs Apex Road) was opened to traffic. At a cost of $20 million (equivalent to $24.5 million in 2023[23]), it was constructed by Blythe Construction and Kimley-Horn.[37][38][39][40] An interchange with the newly extended Morrisville Parkway (exit 64) opened to traffic on February 3, 2020.[41]


A plan approved by the Raleigh city council in November 2013 includes asking for tolls for the existing highway in order to widen it to eight lanes by 2035 or 2040. This would require both state and federal approval. As a temporary solution to increased traffic on the northern section, NCDOT has installed ramp meters on some onramps, the first ones in the state.[42][43]

Triangle Expressway Southeast Extension[edit]

Construction of the I-40/US 70/NC 540 interchange in January 2023

The Southern Wake Expressway will connect Holly Springs with Garner. The route for the southern leg, known as the Orange Route, has been protected from development by NCDOT since the 1990s, but it would cross the habitat for the endangered dwarf wedgemussel. The US Fish and Wildlife Service asked for routes north of the Orange Route to be considered as a way to provide a shorter option, possibly minimizing impacts to natural resources. In September 2010, a new map showed several other routes, including the controversial Red Route, which many Garner-area residents protested in a December 2010 meeting; a total of 3,000  signatures on petitions opposed the route as well.[30][44]

After two years, the General Assembly chose to permit studying the Red Corridor, which meant possible routes could once again be considered. Documents released on September 9, 2013, changed the 30-mile (48 km) project from two phases to a single project, with construction expected to begin in 2018 and be completed by 2022. Public meetings were scheduled in October 2013 for "Complete 540".[45]

In April 2016, NCDOT announced that Detailed Study Alternative[46]  was selected as the preferred alternative for the project. The route goes from west to east and combines the proposed orange, green (southern portion), mint, and green (northern portion) corridor segments. The portion of NC 540 from NC 55 to I-40 was scheduled to be open to traffic in 2023 but was later pushed out to Spring 2024.[47][48]

By August 21, 2021, the final segment closing the loop to I-87/US 64/US 264 was scheduled to begin the bidding process in 2025 with construction not beginning until at least 2029. Public input over the growth and development of a 15,000-acre area of eastern Wake County along the lower Neuse River as well as the future southern loop of NC 540 was requested on June 23, 2023.[49][50]

The process of completing the final segment was sped up after the N.C. Turnpike Authority (NCTA) was able to get a single environmental permit, allowing for utility work to begin. That coupled with strong local support and expected toll revenues moved the project up NCDOT's list of priorities and the bidding process for the segment began much earlier than anticipated in Summer 2023.[51] The work was to be done in two sections; the first one would be from south of Rock Quarry Road northward to the I-540/I-87/US 64/US 264 interchange while the second one would be from I-40/US 70 (future I-42) to south of Rock Quarry Road.[52] In September 2023, it was announced that Flatiron-Fred Smith Company Joint Venture had been awarded a $450 million contract to complete the first segment;[51][52][53] S.T. Wooten-Branch Civil joint venture was awarded a $287 million contract for the second segment in October 2023.[52][54] In December 2023, the Local Government Commission (LGC) approved an application by the NCTA for revenue bonds and a Transportation Infrastructure Finance & Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan through US-DOT to start construction.[55] Construction is now expected to start once the southern extension is opened. Completion of the final segment is expected in 2028.[52][56][57][58]

The section from Apex to US 70 is set to open in summer 2024.[59]

Exit list[edit]

Durham0.00.01 I-40 – Raleigh, Durham, RTPSigned as exits 1A (east) and 1B (west)
WakeRaleigh2.03.22Aviation Parkway – RDU AirportSigned as exits 2A (south) and 2B (north)
4.06.43Lumley Road
4.26.84 US 70 (Glenwood Avenue) – Raleigh, DurhamSigned as exits 4A (east) and 4B (west)
7.011.37Leesville Road
9.214.89 NC 50 (Creedmoor Road) – Creedmoor, Raleigh
Raleigh11.418.311Six Forks Road
13.822.214Falls of Neuse Road
16.827.016 US 1 (Capital Boulevard) – Raleigh, Wake Forest
17.027.417Triangle Town BoulevardTo Triangle Town Center
18.429.618 US 401 (Louisburg Road) – Louisburg, Raleigh
20.232.520Buffaloe Road
US 64 Bus. – Raleigh, Knightdale
Signed eastbound as exits 24A (west) and 24B (east)
25.841.526 I-87 / US 64 / US 264 (Knightdale Bypass) – Raleigh, Wilson, Rocky MountSigned as exits 26A (west) and 26B (east). I-87 previously signed as I-495.[60]
Route transition from I-540 to NC 540
Poole RoadFuture interchanges (proposed Triangle Expressway final phase); estimated completion 2028[52]
Auburn Knightdale Road
Rock Quarry Road
US 70
White Oak Road
I-40 / I-42 east
Future interchanges (under construction), expected completion date Spring 2024[52]
Wake39.263.139 NC 50 (Benson Road)
43.269.543Old Stage Road
45.372.945 US 401 (Fayetteville Road)
47.977.148Bells Lake Road
Holly Springs50.681.451Holly Springs Road
Apex53.686.354 NC 55 – Apex, Holly Springs, Fuquay-VarinaSigned as exits 54A (west) and 54B (east)[36]
54.888.255Veridea Parkway
55.689.556 US 1 – Raleigh, SanfordTo Harris Lake; signed as exits 56A (north) and 56B (south)
56.691.157South Salem Street
Apex59.495.659 US 64 – Apex, PittsboroTo Jordan Lake; signed as exits 59A (east) and 59B (west)[36][61][62]
Cary61.999.662Green Level West Road – Cary
63.6102.464Morrisville ParkwayOpened February 3, 2020[41]
66.4106.966 NC 55 – Cary, DurhamTo USA Baseball; signed as exits 66A (east) and 66B (west)

NC 885 Toll north (Triangle Expressway) – Durham
Was Davis Drive before June 1, 2010; reopened December 8, 2011 as Toll NC 147 north; renamed June 30, 2022 as Toll NC 885 north
69.2111.469 NC 54 – Chapel Hill, CaryEnd of NC 540 portion of Triangle Expressway. Road continues as I-540 (see exit 1 above)
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi


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External links[edit]

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