These photos, from Adam Prince, show the progress on the eastern side of the project along US 70 toward the current Business 70 off-ramp last fall:
These photos, courtesy of Adam Prince, show progress at the future I-885/NC 147 interchange, compare with previous photos regarding work in median and in constructing the future I-885 North Off-Ramp:
The contractors have begun clearing the project area, starting first on the eastern side along US 70, and now along the western side on NC 147 starting in late May. Here are some photos of the clearing along the Durham Freeway on June 20:
And of the clearing and other construction along US 70 courtesy of Adam Prince from May 20:
This future interstate highway would use an upgraded US 70 freeway East (South) from I-85 Exit 178 two miles to the planned East End Connector which would then run about a mile from US 70 to the Durham Freeway (NC 147). The route would then run south with NC 147 for about 5 more miles to I-40 Exit 270 along the Durham Freeway (planned to be widened to 6 lanes). The benefit of the I-885 proposal would be to provide a single numerical designation for drivers from I-85 to RTP and, since the East End Connector is funded as Durham's Urban Loop project, like other NC cities' urban loops, an interstate designation is appropriate. An even number is to be used since it would connect two interstates.
NCDOT officials have discussed an I-885 designation for about 10 years, but the sign plans were the first public notice of the interstate proposal. An NCDOT official says it may be necessary to upgrade parts of the Durham Freeway and US 70 (widen some of the existing shoulders outside of the Project area or request an exemption for a bridge that might not quite meet the specifications) to get federal approval. NCDOT doesn't plan to submit applications to either the FHWA or AASHTO until closer to the East End Connector project's completion.2 Here's a map of the corridor from the News & Observer:
The East End Connector has been an official NCDOT project since the 1970s. Traffic planners in Durham had a connecting route from the Durham Freeway to US 70 in mind earlier in the 1960s when they mapped out the Durham Freeway and left space for an interchange with the Connector between Exits 8 and 11. Since there is no direct connection between the two major east-west highways in the City of Durham (Durham Freeway and US 70), motorists and truckers often use other streets to access the highway system. NCDOT estimated over the next 25 years, traffic volumes would increase significantly and without the Connector additional cut-through traffic would affect local streets and communities. The East End Connector, NCDOT argued, would provide a link among four major transportation routes (I-85, US 70, NC 147, and I-40) and facilitate better traffic flow.
The project has been shelved several times due to wrangling over competing Durham road priorities and debates over a state spending formula that always seemed to find other cities more deserving of big-project dollars.3 During the 1990s NCDOT, the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization, the City of Durham and Durham County all identified the East End Connector project as a priority and pressed for funding. The project was made eligible for funding under the Urban Loop construction fund in the late 1990s after the preferred NCDOT Loop project, a northern bypass which would have cut through the Eno River State Park, was opposed by city officials. The neighborhoods to be affected, largely African-American, were wary of the project, remembering how the building of the Durham Freeway through the heart of downtown during the 1960s bulldozed much of the vibrant 'Black Wall Street' area (opposition which prevented the Freeway from being completed until the late 1990s). NCDOT's preferred alternative to construct the Connector, ended up with 22 residences and 33 businesses being condemned. The final hurdle, concerns of residents of the Hayestown neighborhood, located mostly between Angier Avenue and U.S. 70, was alleviated in 2010 when NCDOT made changes in project plans to provide an improved interchange at Carr Road to preserve the neighborhood’s access to U.S. 70.3
Construction of the Connector started on February 26, 2015 after NCDOT awarded the $142 contract to Dragados USA of New York City on January 7. The project has a tentative completion date of January 2020 (the road could open as early as July 2019).4 Although the Durham Freeway and US 70 are just a mile apart, the project involves constructing 3.9 miles of roadway, including car and railroad bridges, and long loop ramps at both ends. The new freeway will have two lanes each way with room to add a third lane in the future.2 As of the end of January 2017, the project was 35.1% complete.6
Here's a plan for one of the signs at the future intersection between I-885/US70 and West Business 70/NC 98:
This will be Exits 6 Northbound and 6A and 6B Southbound, the current Cheek Road exit would be renumbered Exit 7 (with the I-85 exit renumbered Exit 8), as seen in the plan below:
Here's the plan for the overhead signs at the future southbound split of I-885 and US 70:
Signage at the west end of the Connector is planned to appear as:
The Split of I-885 (to the Connector) and NC 147 northbound is to be Exit 4:
Ellis Road will become Exit 3, Alexander Drive Exit 2 and Cornwallis Road Exit 1.
Here's signage on the Durham Freeway (NC 147) South approaching the Connector:
Finally, here's the proposed signage on the US 70 West: