Local and state officials gathered along U.S. 401 Tuesday afternoon to celebrate completion of a six-mile section of highway from Rolesville into southern Franklin County.
But the focus of the event quickly shifted toward what’s still to come.
U.S. 401 is now a four-lane divided highway from Raleigh to Flat Rock Church Road, near the Triangle North Executive Airport. From there, it narrows to two lanes for the final five miles into Louisburg. Organizers chose to hold Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony where the road changes.
“So we can look to the south, and say, ‘Thank you so much for all that,’” said state Rep. Matthew Winslow, who represents the area. “And we can look to the north and say, ‘We’ve got to get this last section finished.’”
The N.C. Department of Transportation began widening U.S. 401 north of Raleigh in 2001, starting with a small section in the town of Louisburg. Two miles from Mitchell Mill Road in Raleigh to Rolesville came next in 2010, followed by the Rolesville Bypass, which in 2015 carried the highway around town.
Construction on the newest stretch, from N.C. 96 north into Franklin County, began in 2018. NCDOT did the basic planning for the entire highway between Raleigh and Louisburg more than two decades ago but because of competing priorities never had the money to build it all at once.
Now it is scheduled to begin buying property in 2028 to widen the last five-mile section, with construction beginning in 2031. NCDOT estimates it will cost about $55 million.
Local and county officials say the four-lane highway is needed to keep up with growth. Louisburg Mayor Christopher Neal says as Wake County has filled up, people are looking to Franklin County and his town for its small-town feel and the chance to buy a bigger home with a decent-sized yard.
“Wake County is a bustling county, and it has grown as much as it can grow within its borders,” Neal said. “And the only other place for it to grow is to come into Franklin County. And it’s coming this way. This is where development is coming.”
Winslow said the divided highway is also needed for safety reasons. NCDOT designed the new sections of the road to eliminate left turns on or off the highway, by creating numerous places where drivers can safely make U-turns instead.
The growing traffic has made the last section of two-lane highway less safe, Winslow said.
“We’re the fastest-growing county in the state right now,” he said. “So we have to make sure that the roads are here to take care of it.”