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Traffic Congestion and Highway Construction

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Posted

There is a new study out that says the Charlotte region will become extremely congested with traffic in the next 25 years due to increases in population growth. This report was written in part by David Hartgen who is against spending money on alternative means of transit so the reccomendations on how to solve this problem are to build more roads. All of us here know better but never the less it is an issue worth discussing.

Thus, it's time to archive the old topic on this subject and refocus ourselves on what the city can do about the fact the entire city of Pittsburgh is moving to Charlotte in the next 20 years and they are not bringing their transit system with them. (to paraphrase the Observer)

Photo I-85 from the Sugar Creek bridge taken in 2004

I85.jpg

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Posted

I think we need a dedicated local source of funds upon which we can exercise bonds to fund, let's say, $1b worth of upgrades to our thoroughfare system. Preferably with some matching from the state and feds.

Look at our 2025 thoroughfare system. There are significant gaps, and I don't see enough progress on these changes. Most of those are needed already, let alone twenty years from now.

http://www.mumpo.org/PDFs/ThoroughfarePlan2005_v01.pdf

I think we need more middle ring circumferential thoroughfares to be built soon, to alleviate traffic growth on 485, and to spur development within the core city. Fred Alexander Blvd in the NW and the Mallard Creek Church Rd extension to Mint Hill are both very important for both concerns.

At the same time, we need to direct as much growth as possible to be within the central core of Charlotte, within a few miles of downtown and along the transit corridors. We need to spend money correcting minor hiccups in the connectivity, either that has been removed from connectivity in the past, or has never been built. Examples are more bridge connections across creeks, freeways, railroads, and between neighborhoods that were left separated (Sedgefield-Dilworth, Cherry-Elizabeth, Belmont-Plaza Midwood).

I personally believe we have to do something drastic to fix a major bottleneck in our interstate network. I77 between 277 and 85 carries all the interstate traffic from the north of 77, the northeast of 85, and some of the west of 85. I actually believe they should make the Brookshire/85 interchange a freeway to interstate interchange rather than a signaled SPUI. They should then completely shut down all access to southern 77 from 85. So, you could still go 85S to 77N, 85N to 77N, and over 85 on 77. However, 85 traffic wishing to get to downtown or south Charlotte will need to go the extra two miles to Brookshire Freeway. It is a little bit drastic, but the cost to widen that stretch of 77 is outrageously expensive, due to the creeks and the neighborhoods around it. The interchange is no where near the needed capacity but is very expensive to upgrade. So dispersing 85 traffic to Brookshire would alleviate much of the problem. Brookshire could even be upgraded and widened considerably without anywhere near the expense as 77.

We need to explore options like HOV/HOT lanes, which charge a toll for a single lane, on congested interstates in order to squeeze out as much capacity as possible on 77 and 485.

Lastly, we need to start doing incremental changes on projects we know are going to be very very expensive in the future. Why can't we be replacing the bridges on southern 77 over the next 20 years in anticipation of the big upheaval in 2025 when that gets widened? By replacing the bridges one by one, over the next decade, it might give options for doing minor projects to increase capacity before the large upgrade. On ramp/Exit ramps could even be combined to create auxiliary lanes, or a bus lane could be built in the shoulder.

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Posted (edited)

I'll start with a few suggestions for my side of town: the South Charlotte wedge.

Impacted Roads:

Sharon, Park, South Blvd

Problem:

More dense growth in the South Park area, further southern expansion of the city out into Ballentyne - and a lot of these residents work downtown.

Observations:

During various commutes through this area there are some major intersection delays: Park/Fairview, Sharon/Fairview, South/East, South/Arrowood (on the Arrowood side). Also while construction is temporary, currently South Blvd is impacted by the light rail work and Park Road is being resurfaced, adding to the slowdowns and traffic anomalies.

Analysis:

It appears that these roads were designed for the capacity of the existing neighborhoods in that part of town... no one ever envisioned people would live as far out as Ballentyne and use these roads to commute... as such they're a overworked.

The major problem for this wedge of town is that neither South Park nor Ballentyne are included in mass transit plans. While Ballentynites could drive to the southern end of the light rail and take it into town, my initial opinion is that won't happen very often.

Optimistic thinking would place a subway line from downtown with stations under East Blvd, Park Rd Shopping Center, South Park, Somewhere along 51 and then Ballenyne - since property values preclude making another surface line out that way.

However in the near term, pehaps some creative light timing: for instance effectively make South, Park, Providence roads limited access during peak hours using traffic lights - circulator/cross streets get one minute out of every 10 for instance - might go a long way to decreasing the accordion effect backups in place currently.

Are there any other examples of using lights to turn the spoke streets (in hub/spoke city layouts) into limited access arteries during peak hours? Would that actually help solve the problem?

I didn't really address the light rail here because I think it will do more to influence future development patterns than to address existing problems, namely the South Park and Ballentyne residential/commercial hubs.

Edited by nmcheese

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Posted

I wonder if the existing HOV lane is being used to its potential? Any evidence would be anecdotal I guess. I think I am correct that there is only one. Some growing cities have installed "Lexus Lanes", where motorists pay a fee to get down the freeway faster and in less congestion. The city of Houston has an ordinance requiring that all breakdowns or fender benders that are blocking critical arteries have to be moved to the side of the road as fast possible. The city has contracted out with local towers to run this program. I have always thought it was a good idea.

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Posted

Optimistic thinking would place a subway line from downtown with stations under East Blvd, Park Rd Shopping Center, South Park, Somewhere along 51 and then Ballenyne - since property values preclude making another surface line out that way.

Does anybody know how much more expensive a subway is vs. above-ground rail on a cost per mile basis? Just curious.

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Posted

Here's a potential solution that probably wouldn't cost the city that much, how about having people work on different shifts. Like talking with companies and maybe asking them to let people work on different shifts like 7-3, 8-4, 10-6. This could help spread the volume of cars instead of having everyone leave at 5pm. Telecommuting is another option.

Improving the existing roads, like widening and re-designing ramps on I-77, I-277, I-85, I-485, and converting Independence to an expressway would help as well. Also making little improvements to surface streets like extending turn lanes. Mallard Creek Ch Road for example always has backups from people trying to make a left turn onto N. Tryon. That problem could potentially be resolved, by extending the double turn lanes and re-timing the signals at that intersection.

I think we need better planning on the regional level. It won't do Mecklenburg County a bit of good, if Cabarrus County is still endlessly sprawling and those same people are using the Charlotte's roads. HOV/HOT lanes are another good solution as well. Maybe include more options like transit, bike lanes, and sidewalks to give people another option to ditch their cars.

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Posted (edited)

Surface Light-Rail is pretty consistent among municipalities averaging $35M-$40M per mile......Subways vary wildly for multiple reasons.....geology, depth of tunnel, etc. The range for a Light-Rail buried is $100M-$400M per mile, so quite a bit more.

That all said, I absolutely feel that connecting downtown to SouthPark and the Airport with Light-Rail and even subway Light-Rail where needed is worth it in the long run......They obviously aren't the highest priorities now, but will become such in the future 50+ years.'

Just for fun, I think the best method for doing subway from downtown to SP is to do a cut-cover tunnel running down Third-Providence-Queens to Queens Univeristy, then a true excavated tunnel under Myers Park to Barclay Downs/Morrison intersection, then another cut-cover tunnel under Barclay Down to a terminus somehwhere in the vicinity of Barclay Down/Fairview.

Stations would be at:

3rd/Stonewall

3rd/Independence

3rd/Queens

Providence/Laurel

Providence/Queens

Queens/Selwyn/Sharon/Roswell (Queens Univ.)

Selwyn/Colony

Barclay Downs/Morrison

Barclay Downs/Fairview

The cost would be approximately $925M-$950M, assuming $120M/mile for cut-cover and $240M/mile for excavated tunnel.

Edited by atlrvr

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Posted

I wonder if the existing HOV lane is being used to its potential? Any evidence would be anecdotal I guess. I think I am correct that there is only one. Some growing cities have installed "Lexus Lanes", where motorists pay a fee to get down the freeway faster and in less congestion. The city of Houston has an ordinance requiring that all breakdowns or fender benders that are blocking critical arteries have to be moved to the side of the road as fast possible. The city has contracted out with local towers to run this program. I have always thought it was a good idea.

The HOV lane as it is currently designed does not provide much benefit as it abruptly ends going North in the middle of no where. It's actually faster to travel north by riding the far right lane. Going south, it only exists in the new expanded section if I-77 and there again it doesn't provide that much benefit because the road does not back up anymore. Maybe in the future when the NCDOT finally finishes 485 this HOV line might provide some utility. Oh and if you get in the HOV lane, some drivers thinks this means the Hyperdrive Or Veryfast lane and you invite being tailgated if you are not doing at least 80.

Yes you are correct, the HOV lane on I-77 is the only one in NC.

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Posted

Just for fun, I think the best method for doing subway from downtown to SP is to do a cut-cover tunnel running down Third-Providence-Queens .....

It's unfortunate that CMUD has already done a cut and cover on these roads because this is where the main water mains for pumping water from west side are located. Some of them are almost wide enough to drive a small car through.

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Posted

.... Telecommuting is another option.

....

I think the major employers should explore this option more. I went to telecommuting about 2 years ago and I love it. Aside from all of the benefits of not putting miles on my vehicle, I really don't have to spend any time getting ready for work. My work clothes are shorts, tee shirt and flipflops. I have figured that I have gained back 1.5 hours/day by not going in to an office anymore. Oh, and my insurance gave me a 15% discount for not commuting though we really could get rid of one of the cars.

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Posted

I was pretty sure there was only one HOV lane in Charlotte. I agree that its length and direction render it mostly useless. I am surprised it stands alone in NC. One would think that there would be HOV lanes in the Triangle. Trying to get down 40 through RTP during rush hour is an absolute nightmare.

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Posted

Here is NCDOT's HOV website. You can see the plans for I-40. http://www.ncdot.org/projects/hov//

The HOV lanes will be extended south to Trade in the medium term. In the long term, all widening projects on 77 from 485 in the south to LNK will have HOV lanes. They aren't useless as they are now, they just aren't as useful as if they went all the way to LNK.

But it is all our perpetual problem, not enough money compared to the needs.

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Posted

The city of Houston has an ordinance requiring that all breakdowns or fender benders that are blocking critical arteries have to be moved to the side of the road as fast possible. The city has contracted out with local towers to run this program. I have always thought it was a good idea.

This sounded great, and the mayor expected great political capital from it, but it ended up pissing many people off. Due to the swiftness with which broken down vehicles had to be "removed", a sudden and at times criminal industry was born with tow trucks and their affiliated yards banking big time. The tow trucks sat like vultures in lines of 10 to 20 or more on the sides of the roads waiting for "business". There were outright thefts, fights, etc., and ironically, the tow trucks were often obstructing the road shoulders themselves. Due to the sudden need for drivers, many applicants were let through that had criminal/violent records. Not a good mix. I believe they've managed to iron things out, not sure how though.

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Posted

well, one thing I've noticed on my trip up to CH last week, I-85 isn't 8 lanes all the way through Rowan like I had previously thought it was. The only city along the stretch that is though is Salisbury. Those areas are very well maintained too. And I honestly cannot see a city of 27k needing an eight lane freeway when there are two cities to the south of it both with well over twice that population each only have 4 lanes running through them. I'm either unsure where NCDOT's priorities are or how Rowan County would've come up with the funds when many parts of Mecklenburg County still have 4 lanes yet have astronomically larger volumes of traffic.

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Posted

The plan is to 8 lane it all the way through the remaining hourglass section in Cabarrus, and near Spencer. We should be thanking Salisbury that they spent their local division's transportation money on the regionally important I85. A long time ago, Cabarrus county decided to focus more on their parkway than on 85.

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Posted

well, one thing I've noticed on my trip up to CH last week, I-85 isn't 8 lanes all the way through Rowan like I had previously thought it was. The only city along the stretch that is though is Salisbury. Those areas are very well maintained too. And I honestly cannot see a city of 27k needing an eight lane freeway when there are two cities to the south of it both with well over twice that population each only have 4 lanes running through them. I'm either unsure where NCDOT's priorities are or how Rowan County would've come up with the funds when many parts of Mecklenburg County still have 4 lanes yet have astronomically larger volumes of traffic.

Keep in mind that I-85 is one of the major traffic corridors of the South and a huge amount of traffic uses it that is not local. The particular stretch of highway that you mention was especially dangerous in the way it was originally constructed and over the years a number of people were killed on it including an entire family that was traveling through the area. As a result they decided to rebuild it to what you see today. The section going through Cabarrus never had the same issues with safety. I agree with the decision for them to have done this as a drive through there used to be pretty scary. The only other place on I-85 that I remember being so dangerous was the piece that went through Spartanburg. They have since completely bypassed that section. Likewise when I-40 used to go right though Winston-Salem it was the same situation. 40 now goes around the city. Also keep in mind that a lot of the funding for these roads comes from the federal government and not local fund or state funds.

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Posted

Effective transportation planning and zoning is definitely much, much needed. I agree with many points in the above posts. Population growth will have to be addressed, though, including government policies at the national, state and local level that influence it.

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Posted (edited)

As much as I hate supporting highway expansion, I agree that I-85 is one of the most important aspects of Charlotte's economy, and widening it to at least satisfy capacity should be one of the top priorities of the NCDOT.

I-77 and I-485....these items take a backburner, and should sacrifice at the expense of the commercially important I-85.

That said, commuter rail is what will save this region. Atlanta is 25 years behind trying to implement this strategy that serves "suburban living". Even though I believe that suburban living will become out of style in the next 15 years, it will be important to support high-density nodes and the existing suburban population.

Edited by atlrvr

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Posted

The big financial bottleneck with upgrading I-85, are the bridges in Rowan county. I clench my teeth every time I drive over those old decrepit things... no escape room, and just two lanes.

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Posted

The big financial bottleneck with upgrading I-85, are the bridges in Rowan county. I clench my teeth every time I drive over those old decrepit things... no escape room, and just two lanes.

I agree with you MZT. The worst bridge is the one over the Yadkin River. That bridge is awfully scary, especially when you have 18 wheelers passing you by at speeds of 70+. I am always happy when I get across that bridge.

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Posted

The Yadkin river bridges are terrible, but much of 85 through Rowan was almost just as bad, especially as it passed downtown Salisbury. When I first visited Charlotte circa 1996, my friends noted how many people died on 85 in Salisbury. First came the wire fences, which helped a little, but all the bridges still lacked shoulders. So it has been a major safety improvement to get to the section through Salisbury. Now finally, they have started working on the section through Spencer, north of Salisbury. The remaining sections are [between Spencer and the 52, old 85, and new 85 in Davidson County that includes the Yadkin bridges] and in between Concord and China Grove.

The section between Spencer and Davidson county was ALMOST started as a fast design-build project! http://www.ncdot.org/doh/construction/alte.../I2304AAAB.html You can see all the detailed maps of how they'd widen it and what everything would look like. However, then the state pulled back money from the urban divisions as they had 'borrowed' money from the sad sad rural east, that still needed its 3rd freeway between Wilson and Kinston to shave off 10 minutes of travel time.

So projects in Division 9 were reprioritized now that they had much less money, and the original projects were more important to them than a design-build project they almost were able to squeeze in through design-build savings.

Charlotte suffered too, and the unfunded sections of 485 were delayed, as well as many other projects.

So now, time has passed, and the state approved the use of Garvee bonds to fund some roads based on the promise of future federal grants. As a result, widening 85 between Speedway Blvd and NC73 has been added to the 7 year construction plan, rather than just being a generic future project. That is big news. I believe that Division 9 will also finally get the money and reinstate the design-build project to fix the section including the bridges over Yadkin.

But that time has not come yet. It is all directly related to the state's political emphasis on throwing money at eastern NC towns. Bumfuque, NC, will get its urban loops and redundant freeways to nearby Boondock, NC, but in Charlotte, the Triangle, and the Triad, transportation money is a trickle compared to our needs.

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Posted

That was a pretty good synopsis of the state of freeways in the area Dubone. Most likely it will be another 20-25 years before 85 is rebuilt to modern standards in the section from Charlotte to the good section in south of Greensboro. (just past the Yadkin river bridges).

For anyone that wishes to drive to the northeast, I recommend avoiding 85/95 all together and instead take I-77 to I-81 to then I-66 to DC or I-76 to NYC. Much easier drives, its mostly through non-congested areas and 81 through the VA mountains is very scenic. The completion of I-77 to I-81 was a very important but often un-noticed link from Charlotte to the northeast corridor. The only difficult part of this trip is the section from Huntersville to Mooresville and only if you leave during the afternoon rush hour. Say 4pm - 6pm.

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Posted

That was a pretty good synopsis of the state of freeways in the area Dubone. Most likely it will be another 20-25 years before 85 is rebuilt to modern standards in the section from Charlotte to the good section in south of Greensboro. (just past the Yadkin river bridges).

For anyone that wishes to drive to the northeast, I recommend avoiding 85/95 all together and instead take I-77 to I-81 to then I-66 to DC or I-76 to NYC. Much easier drives, its mostly through non-congested areas and 81 through the VA mountains is very scenic. The completion of I-77 to I-81 was a very important but often un-noticed link from Charlotte to the northeast corridor. The only difficult part of this trip is the section from Huntersville to Mooresville and only if you leave during the afternoon rush hour. Say 4pm - 6pm.

I agree that this is the preferable route. Unless you have an underpowered vehicle (like my Xterra), then you might struggle up some of the hills and mountains.

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Posted (edited)

Wow, I love UP, I just learned all kinds of things about 85 I never knew. At no point was I aware of the dangers of 85 in Rowan and now I am glad that the state and national government paid attention to the facts and actually did something productive about it. I guess I hadn't gone that far north on 85 (as the driver) before last week so I never realized there was an issue. Now if only they would make the northern 85-485 and 77-85 junctions a little safer.

Edited by aussie luke

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Posted

That was a pretty good synopsis of the state of freeways in the area Dubone. Most likely it will be another 20-25 years before 85 is rebuilt to modern standards in the section from Charlotte to the good section in south of Greensboro. (just past the Yadkin river bridges).

For anyone that wishes to drive to the northeast, I recommend avoiding 85/95 all together and instead take I-77 to I-81 to then I-66 to DC or I-76 to NYC. Much easier drives, its mostly through non-congested areas and 81 through the VA mountains is very scenic. The completion of I-77 to I-81 was a very important but often un-noticed link from Charlotte to the northeast corridor. The only difficult part of this trip is the section from Huntersville to Mooresville and only if you leave during the afternoon rush hour. Say 4pm - 6pm.

When I'm traveling to and from Charlotte & the DC area I use I-85 and then get on Highway 29 in G'boro. 29 takes you all the way to I-66 at Warrenton, VA. 29 has a few slow stretches, but by-and-large it is a pseudo-limited access highway with high speed limits and tons of Sheetz gas stations (think petro express on steriods).

It takes me about the same amount of time to get back to DC using 85/95, 85/29/66, or 77/81/66. The main difference is that the latter two routes don't require white knuckle driving, they have less trucks, and you still have your sanity when you arrive at your destination.

For anyone who frequently drives to the NE, the new I-95/I-495 "mixing bowl" interchange is much better than it used to be and the new Wilson Bridge (over the Potomac) is going to make the trip through the DC area exponentially better (traffic is still horrendous though).

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