Interstate 540 / Toll NC 540

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Interstate 540 follows the Northern Wake Expressway across the north side of the Raleigh metropolitan area. I-540 is part of a beltway system encircling the capital city along with the tolled Western Wake Expressway (NC 540), from I-40 south to NC 55 at Feltonville, and Southern Wake Expressway under construction east back to I-40. The Triangle Expressway connects NC 540 with Research Triangle Park (RTP) and the Durham Freeway (NC 147).

The I-540 section of the beltway extends 25.84 miles east from I-40 near RTP and Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU) to I-87/U.S. 64-264 outside Knightdale. Currently extending 16.51 miles south from I-40/540, NC Highway 540 follows the Western Wake Expressway from I-40/540 to NC 147 through Morrisville, and the Triangle Expressway from NC 147 at RTP to U.S. 1 at Apex and NC 55 at Holly Springs. NC 540 is an all electronic toll (AET) road south from NC 54 (Exit 69).

Interstate 540 North Carolina Guides

The Northern Wake Expressway was completed in stages. The first segment opened between Exit 1 (I-40) and Exit 4 (U.S. 70) on January 21, 1997. Subsequent sections opened eastward to Exit 7 in 1999, Exit 9 in 2000, Exit 14 in 2001 and Exit 16 in 2002. Interstate 540 southeast from U.S. 1 (Capital Boulevard) at Exit 16 to the Knightdale Bypass (Exit 26) opened to traffic on January 16, 2007. The initial segment of the Western Wake Expressway (NC 540) opened southwest from I-40 to NC 54 at Morrisville on July 14, 2007. The 4.5 mile segment was initially signed as Future I-540, but quickly changed when it was determined that tolls would implemented.

Interstate 540 was originally intended to be renumbered as I-640, adhering to the Interstate numbering convention where loops are even numbered. However the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) announced in 2002 that I-540 would not be renumbered in the future. NCDOT codified these plans for I-540 in 2013 as part of the request to redesignate U.S. 64 as Interstate 495 from Raleigh east to I-95 at Rocky Mount.

Due to funding issues, NC 540 along the Triangle Expressway and Southern Wake Expressway are toll roads. Construction extending NC 540 south to the Triangle Expressway (NC 147) and U.S. 64 ran through 2012. The Triangle Expressway south to NC 540 was completed in December 2011. Further extension of the Triangle Expressway southeast to NC 55 by Holly Springs followed through December 2012.

Complete 540

Work on the Complete 540 project / Southeast Extension for NC 540 commenced in November 2019. With an anticipated opening in 2023 Spring 2024, Phase I extends the Triangle Expressway east from NC 55 in Apex to I-40 near the Johnston County line.

  • R-2721A - NC 55 east past an interchange with Holly Springs Road (SR 1152)
  • R-2721B - Pierce Olive Road east to Fanny Brown Road, with interchanges built at Bells Lake Road (SR 1386) and U.S. 401.
  • R-2828 - Fanny Brown ROad east to I-40 at Future I-42/U.S. 70 (Clayton Bypass), with interchanges at Old Stage Road (SR 1006) and NC 50 (Benson Road).

Construction on Phase II, from I-40 north to I-87/U.S. 64-264 at Knightdale, is projected to start in 2029. Estimated costs for completing NC 540 in 2020 was $2.2 billion.

Interstate 540 Toll NC Highway 540 scenes
Former guide sign for the loop ramp linking NC 55 westbound with NC 540 north. 12/15/16
This shield assembly and the previous guide sign for NC 540 north on NC 55 west were replaced with a single assembly by 2018. 12/15/16
NC 55 west at the south end of NC 540. Construction underway through Spring 2024 extends the Triangle Expressway east to Garner. 02/15/19
U.S. 64 Business (New Bern Boulevard) west at the Northern Wake Expressway in the town of Knightdale. 12/15/16

The history of I-540 was originally researched by Brian LeBlanc on the WakeCounty Roads web site. Information here is reproduced with his permission.

Photo Credits:

12/15/16, 02/15/19 by AARoads

Connect with:
Interstate 40
Interstate 87
U.S. 1
U.S. 64
U.S. 70
U.S. 401

Page Updated 01-31-2023.

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