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Fixing congested NC 54 in Morrisville will begin with this 2-mile stretch

The N.C. Department of Transportation's plans to widen a stretch of N.C. 54 in Morrisville include a new ramp from Lichtin Road directly onto northbound N.C. 540 and a tunnel to carry a path for pedestrians and cyclists under the highway.
The N.C. Department of Transportation's plans to widen a stretch of N.C. 54 in Morrisville include a new ramp from Lichtin Road directly onto northbound N.C. 540 and a tunnel to carry a path for pedestrians and cyclists under the highway. NCDOT

A congested part of N.C. 54 in Morrisville will be widened under a plan the N.C. Department of Transportation will present to the public Monday evening, but it doesn't include the two-lane stretch that goes through the heart of town.

Much of N.C. 54, or Chapel Hill Road, is still a two-lane road through Morrisville, as it was when the town was a farming community between Chapel Hill and Raleigh. Now the road is often overwhelmed with commuters from Cary and Morrisville going to and from Research Triangle Park and the business parks that have clustered around it.

NCDOT plans to widen a 2-mile stretch of N.C. 54 from Perimeter Park Drive to Shiloh Glen Drive, just west of the N.C. 540 interchange. The state would eventually like to widen the road all the way through Morrisville to Weston Parkway, but decided to start where the extra pavement is needed most, said Zahid Baloch, the project engineer.

“They were trying to do the most important part of this whole corridor first," Baloch said. "That part was the one with the most problems.”

The project, now estimated to cost more than $25 million, would add an additional travel lane in both directions, as well as new turn lanes. It would also result in a new entrance ramp from Litchin Road onto northbound N.C. 540, which would allow traffic from Carrington Mill Boulevard to get on the freeway without using N.C. 54.

Altogether, there will be eight lanes under the existing N.C. 540 bridge, which won't leave room for a sidewalk or bicycle lane. NCDOT has proposed building a culvert to carry a separate path for bikes and pedestrians under the highway.

“Our goal there was to put the sidewalk under the bridge, but it was not possible," Baloch said.

Because of the railroad tracks that parallel N.C. 54 on the south side, the additional right-of-way for the wider road will come from the north side. NCDOT may have to take Smokey's BBQ Shack as well as pieces of property from several other businesses and the town fire station at Perimeter Park Drive.

NCDOT will present its plans from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at Hyatt House hotel, 10962 Chapel Hill Road. There will be no formal presentation, but people can stop by during those times to learn about the plan, ask questions and provide feedback. The public can submit comments through July 16 by calling Balock at 919-707-6012, by email at zbalock@ncdot.gov or by mail to 1548 MSC, Raleigh, N.C., 27699-1548.

DOT expects to begin buying property for the project next spring and have contractors begin construction in the spring of 2021. Baloch said the work will likely be done in conjunction with another project to build a bridge that would carry McCrimmon Parkway over N.C. 54 and the railroad tracks near Perimeter Park Drive.

To see drawings of N.C. 54 widening project, go to www.ncdot.gov/projects/publicmeetings/?search=U-5750.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling
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