This is one of the best parts about living in Durham: the commute is fantastic, no matter where you're going, be it Research Triangle Park, downtown or north Raleigh, the airport, or anywhere else in the region.
Why? For two very good reasons.
Point one: the population disparity between growth-constrained Durham (about a quarter-million people in the county) and Wake, home of Raleigh (with a county population of three-quarters of a million as of this writing.)
Point two: the major economic driver of the entire Triangle region is Research Triangle Park, home to megacampuses for Cisco, Nortel, Lenovo, IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, the EPA, NIEHS... the list goes on and on. Most of RTP is located in the southeastern corner of Durham County, with bits and pieces jutting over into the edge of Wake. RTP is the top commuting destination in the Triangle and it pays to be in it or near it.
Combine these two points, and you can see why Durham is home to the best commute in the Triangle. The morning rush-hour "jam" is I-40 westbound from Cary/Raleigh (at the I-40/I-440 split) all the way through RTP, with traffic crawling and sometimes stopped at peak hours. In the evening, the bulk of the commute (thanks to Wake's larger population) is from RTP back eastbound towards Cary, Raleigh, Johnston County, and other suburban destinations.
What this means for Durham commuters is:
- Durhamites headed for the Park have an easy time, since I-40 eastbound and the Durham Freeway (NC 147) southbound to RTP both move along at their posted speeds (65 mph) most morning without any delay, save for the rare accidents. The traffic congestion is almost entirely on the Wake County side.
- Bull City commuters who are heading to Raleigh also have a free-pass of traffic. I-40 is four lanes in each direction from RTP to Raleigh to handle the throngs of Wake County commuters. If you head to Raleigh in the mornings and back to Durham in the evenings, you've got a superhighway mostly to yourself and rarely encounter brake lights.
- Another plus is that Duke and its sprawling Medical Center (and the adjacent VA Hospital) are collectively the largest employment site in the entire metro area -- over 40,000 employees in an area well-served by US 15-501 and the Durham Freeway, with quick connections to I-85.
Adding to the benefits, I-85 has just been widened to a modern superhighway that is as much as 6 lanes in each direction through central Durham, which has eliminated past congestion issues on this main road connecting the Triangle with Richmond, Charlotte, and Atlanta.
Are there any trouble spots in Durham traffic? I'd put an asterisk by US 15-501 from the old South Square site to Chapel Hill, a section where the road turns from a decent freeway to a road with stop-and-go traffic lights and lots of Durham-to-Chapel Hill traffic. Roxboro Road on the northern side of the city can also clog up at times, as can US 70 heading towards Brier Creek, though that is usually a straight shot.