Interstat540 and North Carolina State Highway 540 shara 42-mile partially completed beltway that nearly encircles the greater Raleigh area. When completed, the freeway will total seventy miles. The completed sections include untolled I-540, which begins at Interstate 40's exit 283 in Durham County, travels north and east around North Raleigh, before turning south ending at the I-87/US 64/US 264 freeway in Knightdale, and tolled NC 540, which continues from I-40, travels through western Wake County, and terminates at NC 55 in Holly Springs. The completion of the loop has been delayed several times due to evaluating several routes in order to address environmental concerns near Garner.

Route Description

Northern Wake Expressway

I-540 begins at I-40's exit 283 near Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Carrying six lanes throughout its entire length, the freeway travels to the northeast, curving to the east as it meets its interchanges with Aviation Parkway and Lumley Road, both of which serve the airport. The next interchange connects to US 70 (Glenwood Avenue), providing access to Umstead State Park, Raleigh's Brier Creek development, and the city of Durham. Continuing eastbound, I-540 travels around northern Raleigh with interchanges at Leesville, Creedmoor, Six Forks and Falls of Neuse roads providing access to local shopping centers and residential areas.


After its interchange with Falls of Neuse Road, I-540 briefly turns to the south as it approaches US 1 (Capital Boulevard) and Triangle Town Boulevard, connecting the freeway to Triangle Town Center. Shortly thereafter, US 401 (Louisburg Road) travels to the northern campus of Wake Technical Community College and the town of Rolesville. I-540 then crosses the Neuse River and turns to the south, where another local interchange with Buffaloe Road follows. Entering the town of Knightdale, I-540 meets US 64 Business (Knightdale Boulevard) before ending at a partially completed interchange with I-87/US 64/US 264. The physical roadway will continue south as NC 540.

Eastern Wake Expressway

The Eastern Wake Expressway is the final segment of the 540 outer loop and will extend the tolled NC 540 freeway from I-40 near Garner to I-87 in Knightdale. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2026.

Southern Wake Expressway

The Southern Wake Expressway is a continuation of the tolled NC 540 freeway and is currently under construction. This segment will extend the freeway from NC 55 near Holly Springs to I-40 near Garner. This segment is scheduled to open to traffic in spring 2024.

Western Wake Expressway

After its interchange with NC 55, NC 540 turns to the north, providing access to Veridia Parkway and US 1. The freeway travels through primarily residential land as interchanges with Salem Street and US 64 follow. NC 540 leaves Apex and enters Cary as it meets Green Level West Road and Morrisville Parkway, the latter of which providing access to the USA Baseball complex. Turning to the northeast as it has another interchange with NC 55, NC 540 enters the town of Morrisville. At the next interchange, the Triangle Expressway tolling system leaves the highway to follow NC 885 towards Durham. A short free segment then follows with a singular interchange connecting to NC 54 before the NC 540 designation ends at I-40. The mile markers and exit numbers reset to 0 and the freeway continues northeast as I-540.


I-540's planning dates back to the 1970s as the Northern Wake Expressway. However, in the 1980s, concerns about increased traffic in western Wake County led to the expressway becoming a new beltway around Raleigh. Originally planned to be renamed I-640, I-540 first opened in 1997, connecting I-40 to US 70. Over the next decade, several extensions were made:

  • From US 70 (Exit 4) to Leesville Road (Exit 7) in 1999
  • From Leesville Road (Exit 7) to Creedmoor Road (Exit 9) in 2000
  • From Creedmoor Road (Exit 9) to Falls of Neuse Road (Exit 14) in 2001
  • From Falls of Neuse Road (Exit 14) to Capital Boulevard (Exit 16) in 2002
  • From Capital Boulevard (Exit 16) to I-87/US 64/US 264 (Exit 26) in 2007

In the years following the Falls of Neuse to Capital extension, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) realized that future sections of the roadway would not be opened until 2032 if paid for by state funds, leading to the decision to add tolls to the remainder of the loop. As part of the Triangle Expressway, the next section of the beltway (the Western Wake Expressway) was extended from I-40 to NC 55 (Exit 66), set to open as an extension of I-540. However, the North Carolina Turnpike Authority apparently never wanted any section of the Expressway to be signed as an Interstate. As a result, Future I-540 shields that had already been placed along the route were replaced with NC 540 shields just two weeks before the roadway was set to open. (Additionally, I-540, which at this point, was planned to travel completely around Raleigh, would have violated regulations regarding the signage of three-digit Interstates; an odd first digit designated a spur, while an even first digit designated a loop or bypass. This is why the roadway was originally planned to be renumbered as I-640, the last remaining designation within the state, as I-240, I-440, and I-840 were already taken by Asheville, Raleigh, and Greensboro, respectively.)

The next portion of the western leg of the outer loop began construction in 2009 and opened to traffic in two phases. The first, connecting NC 55 to US 64 (exit 59), opened in August 2012, while the other extended the freeway to its current western terminus at NC 55 Bypass near Holly Springs in December 2012.

April 2017 saw the addition of a new exit located between US 1 and NC 55 at Veridia Parkway (formerly known as Old Holly Springs-Apex Road), providing better connectivity to the freeway from Holly Springs. Another new interchange connecting to an extended Morrisville Parkway opened in early 2020.

In September 2017, the NCDOT installed ramp meters on the westbound entrance ramps at Leesville, Creedmoor, Six Forks, and Falls of Neuse Roads, making I-540 the first freeway in the state to use them. The ramp meters serve as a temporary means of reducing traffic congestion on the Interstate until the state can afford to widen it in 2025 or later.

Southeast Extension

The remaining 28 miles of the beltway, known as the Southern and Eastern Wake Freeways, will be constructed as a continuation of the NC 540 toll road and is intended to provide a freeway-to-freeway link between the towns of Knightdale and Holly Springs. The route chosen for the freeway, the Orange and Green Corridors, had been protected from development since the 1990s, with the freeway planned to finish construction by 2014 or 2015. However, the presence of an endangered species known as the dwarf wedge mussel occupying the Swift Creek watershed southeast of Garner prevented the construction schedule from moving forward. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service asked the NCDOT to consider alternate routes for the freeway, resulting in a total of seventeen different candidates for the final leg of the freeway. The most controversial of the routes was the Red Corridor, which if chosen, would result in cutting the town of Garner in half and the demolition of several hundred homes and businesses. In late 2010, residents accumulated over three thousand signatures on a petition in protest of the Red Corridor.

The Red Corridor was not addressed again until 2013 when the North Carolina General Assembly voted to once again consider it as an alternative to the Orange Corridor. However, in April 2016, it was decided that the freeway would use the Orange Route for the segment between NC 55 and I-40 as well as two sections of the Green Route and one section of the Mint Route for the remaining segment of the loop. The final environmental study was completed in December 2017, with construction on the first phase, between I-40/US 70 at the Wake/Johnston County border and the NC 55 bypass, beginning in November 2019; the segment will open in 2024. The final segment of the freeway, from I-40 to I-87, is scheduled to begin construction in 2026. Thentire project will cost $2.2 billion.

Exit List

Exit Number Intersecting Street Name Destinations
1A I-40 East Raleigh, Wilmington
1B I-40 West Durham, Greensboro
2 Aviation Parkway Raleigh-Durham International
3 Lumley Road Raleigh-Durham International
4A US 70 East (Glenwood Avenue) Raleigh, Clayton, Goldsboro
4B US 70 West (Glenwood Avenue) Durham, Hillsborough, Burlington
7 Leesville Road  
9 NC 50 (Creedmoor Road) Raleigh, Benson, Creedmoor
11 Six Forks Road North Hills
14 Falls of Neuse Road North Raleigh
16 US 1 (Capital Boulevard) Raleigh, Wake Forest, Henderson
17 Triangle Town Boulevard Triangle Town Center Mall
18 US 401 (Louisburg Road) Louisburg, Raleigh, Fuquay-Varina
20 Buffaloe Road  
24 Business US 64 (Knightdale Boulevard) Raleigh, Knightdale
26 I-87/US 64/US 264 (Knightdale Bypass) Raleigh, Asheboro, Wilson, Rocky Mount
Future Poole Road  
Future Auburn Knightdale Road  
Future Rock Quarry Road  
Future Business US 70 Garner, Clayton, Smithfield
Future White Oak Road Garner
Future I-40/US 70/Future I-42 Raleigh, Durham, Clayton, Goldsboro, Wilmington
Future NC 50 (Benson Road) Raleigh, Creedmoor, Benson
Future Old Stage Road  
Future US 401 (Fayetteville Road) Raleigh, Fayetteville
Future Bells Lake Road  
Future Holly Springs Road  
Tolling Begins
54 NC 55 Bypass Holly Springs
55 Veridia Parkway  
56 A US 1 North Raleigh, Wake Forest
56 B US 1 South Sanford, Raeford
57 South Salem Street  
59 A US 64 East Raleigh, Wilson, Rocky Mount
59 B US 64 West Asheboro, Siler City
62 Green Level West Road Cary
64 Morrisville Parkway Cary, Morrisville
66 NC 55 Holly Springs, Durham
67 NC 885 Durham
Tolling Ends
69 NC 54 Raleigh, Chapel Hill


In order to address the issue of high volumes of traffic on I-540, I-40, I-440, and I-87, NCDOT has proposed constructing tolled express lanes on each of the Interstates in order to add capacity. The express lanes on I-540 are planned to span the length of the northern 26 miles of the loop. Construction was originally planned to begin in 2025 but was delayed to an unspecified date due to funding issues.

See Also

  • I-40, I-540's parent route
  • I-440, Raleigh's inner beltline
  • I-87, Raleigh's newest Interstate