monsoon

Traffic Congestion and Highway Construction

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Wow, that's insane! especially with all the growth in the Lake Norman area. Do you think this could change and funding could be allocated much sooner?

We all know most metro areas can come with 100's of projects that can tie that money up forever. In both cases better planning needs to be highlighted instead of a blank check and build....

I agree that the funding formula is not equitable w/r/t the needs of the urban areas, but there is an important point here that doesn't get enough "airplay" in the urban areas. So... Huntersville, Cornelius, Mooresville, Monroe, Indian Trail, and even Charlotte can continue to absorb minimally controlled growth and sprawl outward and a record pace, ignoring the simple inequitable math of stretching public facilities funding to the brink and simply expect that NCDOT (or the local taxpayers for schools, etc) will come to the rescue despite the fact that the funding formula has been unchanged in 18 years?

Langtree and maybe the new Westmoreland development on I-77 are prime examples. What do local officials think is going to happen with that interstate with 2M+ sf of new development? The state should be scolded too for agreeing to fund the new exit 32 for Langtree as well. There is *NO MONEY* to widen I-77 for many years to come, no magical road fairy to bestow $billions in the region, so it makes no sense to approve these developments unless you can accept the folowing... in the current situation, there exists an unstated "contract" between politicians and the people of the region:

"We, the elected reps of the people know the roads and schools are terrible, but we feel the continued economic growth of the area at the expense of air quality and other measures of quality of life is more important than maintaining the adequacy of your public facilites, including roads, schools, water, police, fire and other services."

^BTW, the above can be repeated of any metro area in NC. If you look at the facts from an objective point of view, it's an insane way to conduct business, but that's politics for you, and the people have no idea they are being taken for a ride.

Oh and if you think that's bad, check out this excerpt from the Natl Governors Association:

States face two significant and immediate challenges with respect to transportation finance. First, investment is insufficient to meet demand. A recent National Chamber Foundation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce study estimates that $222 billion (2005 dollars) in public investment in highways and transit is needed annually simply to maintain our current surface transportation system. Present total annual investment in the system is about $177 billion, far short of that amount. Moreover, the Chamber study estimates that an annual public investment of $288 billion (2006 dollars) is needed to advance the system to a level that enhances the nation

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So in summary, according to the GAO, if the federal govt keeps trying to prop up all current programs--especially entitlements like medicare and social security--at current spending levels with no new funding measures, the United States of America will be bankrupt by about 2040.

Technically we are already bankrupt. I want go into the why, but let's just say the Gov't has cooked the books.

A2

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A prototype of the new uptown Wayfinding Signs has been installed outside of the Goverment Center near the 4th and Davidson intersection. The city is soliciting feedback on the sign before they go to final design. So check it out and let them know what you think.

Please send your feedback to [email protected] or fill out one of the comment cards in the Govt Center lobby.

I checked it out earlier today and it looks aesthically pleasing, but there are a few things I would like to see changed.

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I checked it out earlier today and it looks aesthically pleasing, but there are a few things I would like to see changed.

Do tell!

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Has anybody seen the design for the new extension of Providence Road past 485? Is it going to be the near freeway size of the Providence Road past Old Providence (or like Rea)? If so it seems crazy to place speed limits of 45 and then give people lanes that are 1.6 times the width of their SUV. I think the state should build normal lane widths and add a bicycle lane on the side for that 'extra' lane width when it is needed for super large trucks or breakdowns. The current design of this road is not a good one and just seems extreemly wasteful for NC road spending.

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Do tell!

The main thing is on the map at the bottom of the sign I felt like 1st,3rd, and 4th Ward were diminished to mainly the residential areas. And I guess for the first time vistitor that is fine..but as a longtime resident it didn't look right. My other concern was the ability of the maps to be updated. With all the construciton going on downtown the maps will need to be updated on a regular basis.

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I cannot help but wince at the notions of environmental determinism that are woven into this dialogue.

While I am a relative newcomer to the Carolinas and do not fully understand the cryptic structure of the state's funding formula, I do notice some problems.

North Carolina's rural areas, especially those in the east, are depressed and poor. This is certain. However, there is no evidence to support that extending more freeway networks to them will improve their economic situation.

Accessibility plays a central role in the location of firms, yes, but so do numerous other factors including the quality of the workforce, presence of complimentary firms, telecommunications infrastructure, and quality of life factors for employees. These are why industries tend to agglomerate in urban areas (though in an increasingly suburban form).

The educational attainment of much of those regions is low. Any new business that needs an educated workforce would be darn near crazy to locate in much of Eastern North Carolina. They would have to coax an entire workforce to move along with them. The construction of freeways makes these areas more accessible, but nobody is going to commute 2 hours from Charlotte or an hour plus from Raleigh to work in a firm located near GTP. The only industries this will attract are low-level assembly and manufacturing firms that do not rely upon the close proximity of related suppliers. Read: low paying jobs. How many Wal-Mart distribution centers and plastics manufacturers can the region support anyway?

If the goal of the state, through extending interstate highways to the east, is to improve the economic health of the region they got the prescription wrong. Instead, further investment in education, public health, and related measures should be undertaken to make the region a more attractive place in which to live and conduct business.

- - - -

Which brings me to Mecklenburg and Wake counties. Yes, the interstates are above capacity in many places. Yes, 485 should have been completed ages ago. Yes, we pay out more than we recieve in services. But such is the nature of government. Like it or not, we need many of the services provided by the rural areas. We rely upon them for agricultural products, some industry, and natural resources. If left to their own devices, those counties would not have near enough money to construct and maintain the infrastructure needed to promptly deliver those goods and services. The same works at the national scale. Wyoming, big but sparsely populated, consumes far more in federal tax dollars than it pays in. If it didn't, coal, cattle, and other products would never reach much of the country.

So we will just have to sit back and wait our turn. Hey, two good things could still come from this approach. One: if congestion reaches gridlock in many places, it may be the force to slow development that our local governments are not willing to be. Two: it always gives us something to complain about - which seems to be Charlotte's favorite hobby ("We never get as much as Raleigh, or, the east gets more than we do")

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I cannot help but wince at the notions of environmental determinism that are woven into this dialogue.
What? You don't know that we Southerners are slower than our Northern counterparts due to the heat? We move at a pace that is tied to our climate.

But seriously, I don't quite understand your statement in regards to what has been said on the forum. Can you elaborate?

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^

My apologies if my prior statement wandered a bit from the topic at hand. I was specifically trying to address the issues of equity in the statewide transportation funding formula discussed on what is now page 15 of the forum. The questions of 'highways through the swamp,' giving the east more money at the expense of Wake and Mecklenburg, and the like.

My personal belief is that simply restructuring the landscape will not provide the intended benefits to the rural areas which the state hopes to achieve. In many cases they need infrastructure improvements, but it is unrealistic to expect them to boost economic investment.

This ties back into the east v urban funding issue. Urban areas provide the bulk of the funds, but we want them spent locally (485 etc) where we see a direct benefit. While I am not in the best position to judge, perhaps (in terms of the state at large) the most benefit can be realized by improving the rural infrastructure....at the expense of expansion in the Charlotte area.

(despite all this, I do really find it ridiculous that 485 has taken so long)

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^My thinking on that is exactly the opposite. I don't think the state should have road building programs that grid the state with interstate and multilane highways. It only enables sprawl. Sprawl that is unsustainable. The biggest beneficiary to all the road building in NC has been the Walmart Corporation which is now NC's largest employer. This isn't the model we should be following.

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With the focus of America becoming more and more on cities and the importance of the service and information industry that exists within these cities, there should be NO push to put every soul that lives 500 miles away from these cities within a mile of a 4 lane divided highway. These people have been getting along fine for a long time with driving on the 2 lane roads that get their goods to the city. I agree with some of the roads, but the number of roads that NC is currently building is just crazy. We should link up our ports to the piedmont and then focous on the roads within the cities.

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^

I have to agree to a point. Many of the rural Interstates being constructed are indeed overkill. However, the conditions of the highways they are replacing are often horrendous. Perhaps a more balanced approach would be to use the money granted to the interstate highways to improve the existing roadways, add shoulders, and such.

Investment in our peripheral areas is necessary, but many of you are right in asserting that what NC has done is overkill.

Edited by paholler

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Speaking of state-wide roads, it is just a little baffling to me the stretch of 85 though Salisbury that is 5 lanes per side at it's peak including an expensive oversized bridge spanning 52, what the hell is the point? It peters out back to 2 lanes before it ever gets to Kannapolis, so it can't be for commuter traffic from Salisbury to CLT, or GSO for that matter since there is a two lane stretch between them as well. Is this a Senator Dole pork project? At some point 85 up to Salisbury should be in the realm of Charlotte area planning, but seems nowhere near that point yet, and the funds spent at Salisbury would have been much better used in Meck.

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^ that section of I-85 was old and woefully inadequate. Bridges had no shoulders and were crumbling. They figured "if we're going to improve this highway, we might as well improve it ALL the way, as in full build-out scenario, as doing this now is cheaper than doing the improvement in stages.

The same can be said of I-85 in Durham. It's WAY wider than we need right now, but it's cheaper to go from 2 lanes straight to 6, than it is to go from to 2 to 3, then later 4, then 5, then 6.

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^ I hear you, but they didn't apply the same principle when building pieces of 485 around CLT @ 2 lanes when they were constructing it, even despite the obvious fact that other sections were already being heavily used. As for Durham, it's wide sections seem much more justifiable, and future-oriented given Triangle growth, whereas it will be many decades before Salisbury is a bedroom community for CLT.

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I-485 was a mistake and everybody knows it. In an ironic twist, that may be the very reason that I-85 in Salisbury was built to be such a huge highway.

The fact that Division 5 (Rowan County) had enough money to pay for this widening, while Division 6 (Mecklenburg/Cabarrus) doesn't have the money to continue the widening all the way into town is undeniable. However, this is not necessarily indicitave of flaws in the equity formula, since Division 5 isn't exactly a rural division (contains Forsyth County.) It seems, to me, to simply indicate that this stretch of highway is not the immediate priority for Div. 6.

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^My thinking on that is exactly the opposite. I don't think the state should have road building programs that grid the state with interstate and multilane highways. It only enables sprawl. Sprawl that is unsustainable. The biggest beneficiary to all the road building in NC has been the Walmart Corporation which is now NC's largest employer. This isn't the model we should be following.
While I agree with you whole-heartedly in theory, in practice its quite different. Ultimately it is up to muncipalities and county governments to dictate whether or not and how land gets developed. If those entities would grow a decent-sized set and insist on sustainable development and promote well-thought out planning policies, the ugliness that has become every new interchange on every new roadway in North Carolina wouldn't be what it is. Local governments, for the most part (and I understand not always in every circumstance) are really to blame.

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I-485 was a mistake and everybody knows it.

I understand all the urban concept reasons why it is a mistake, and loops in general for that matter, but I still have some internal conflict on the loop issue. Setting aside for a moment that loops encourage sprawl and decentralization, they seem to be good things if everything bounded by the loop is dense and built out (or close to it). There are only a few places in the US in which that is valid, so I get that it isn't relevant to CLT or most other cities, but if in 50 years that is true then at that point 485 was "good foresight". If they waited until then to build it they'd be destroying untold billions in development just in it's placement. If strong regulations accompanied loop construction, the sprawl and decentralization they create could be minimized or prevented entirely (it would seem).

Edited by nowensone

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Setting aside for a moment that loops encourage sprawl and decentralization, they seem to be good things if everything bounded by the loop is dense and built out (or close to it).

If only that were the case, which is most certainly is not in Mecklenburg County. And you're right, it's not the case in most US cities. If these loops could be built for the original purpose intended way back in the 1950's and 60's (as a means of diverting traffic away from congested city centers), then great! But developers and politicians got involved and our city and county, to quote Miesian Corners, never grew a set. They bowed to the pressure of the developers and we now have many, many more interchanges on 485 than it was initially designed to have, and they've allowed some sort of sprawly retail, office, tract home development at each one of them! I remember several years ago when one of the planning big-wigs from Atlanta was in town speaking at a conference. He said if he could give Charlotte one piece of advice so that it could avoid some of Atlanta's mistakes, it would be for us not to lay one more foot of concrete for I-485.

To me, the problem isn't the road itself. The problem is that our local government can't let it be JUST a road. It's absolutely nothing more than an expansion tool for developers.

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When I said that 485 was a huge mistake, I was simply referring to the 4-lane section. That was a mistake on the part of all parties involved. The fact that DOT made this mistake and will have to pay for it in the future may be the very reason that I-85 through Salisbury is so wide.

...But now that we've gone down the road of whether loop freeways help us or hurt us, I'll add my 2 cents (from the perspective of a Raleigh-ite).

The I-440 Beltline in Raleigh actually does do what it advertised, which is to divert through traffic out of the city center.

However, as with each and every belt road in the state, land use planning allowed the beltline to become the new "focus" for the city, with developers taking advantage of all the new traffic at each interchange and building car-friendly services and amenities to get these passers by to stop. For example, see North Hills, Crabtree Valley, Rex Hospital, RBC Center, WakeMed, Highwoods, etc. While traffic was relieved within the beltline, few people noticed or cared, they were now living their lives without any desire or need to head into downtown whatsoever. Most services and nearly all retail had re-centered itself on the Beltline.

In the meantime, ITB Raleigh was much nicer to drive, but downtown slid until it became rather like a ghost town. This was not necessarily due to the contsruction of the beltline, this was due more to the postwar shift to suburbanization. However, the beltline did certainly help folks to "forget" about downtown. Many people throughout the city still hold this mentality.

The city tried for a decade post-beltline to "keep things going" downtown, but when the FSM conversion failed in the late 70s, they pretty much gave it up completely until the late 90s.

But now that downtown is regaining its appeal, we're in a better position to grow than we were before, as the streets are no longer quite as choked with traffic as they were.

So, in Raleigh's case, and probably everywhere else in the state, it's hard to say whether we're better off with or without the beltline. I would say the Beltline as a transportation facility is absolutely essential. There was no need for trucks & people driving from DC to Columbia on US 1 to choke up the streets in Downtown Raleigh. However, the unchecked development that eventually became institutionalized has done more damage to the Raleigh landscape than any other public works project. If we could have had the transportation benefits of the beltline, without the dramatic re-centering of destination retail and services, then we might have a more urban, better laid-out, and more livable city to this day.

I believe the same principle applies to the I-485 loop in Charlotte. If it were simply a bypass route for traffic, then great idea. This would mean that it would have about 10 or so interchanges, only with the major highways that carry a lot of through traffic. But instead, it's being touted as a convenience for local residents, and as the framework for future development and growth in the Charlotte region. That's what makes it a huge mistake.

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^My thinking on that is exactly the opposite. I don't think the state should have road building programs that grid the state with interstate and multilane highways. It only enables sprawl. Sprawl that is unsustainable. The biggest beneficiary to all the road building in NC has been the Walmart Corporation which is now NC's largest employer. This isn't the model we should be following.

To say building multi-lane roads throughout the state enables sprawl is necessarily true. No major road construction has occured in Union County, yet there is so much spill over from Mecklenburg that you can't tell where Union starts and Mecklenburg begins. No telling when the Monroe Bypass and Connector will be built. Bad land use planning enables sprawl.....not only enables, facilitates sprawl. In the time that it takes to plan and build a road, you can build a dozen subdivisions. US 421 is four-lane divided facility from Winston-Salem to Boone....no sprawl along the US 421 corridor. NCDOT can not control land use, so sprawl is dictated at the local level. Local officials zone areas so that developers can build 400 home (.17 acre) subdivisions all over rural areas. The result is a two-lane rural road now carrying more traffic than it was designed to carry. What then happens, MUMPO (in the case of Charlotte) now adds this once rural road of no real significance to their long range transportation plan. It is then prioritized and added to an already overly inflated state transportation plan (STIP) for Division 10. Now, you have more projects but not necessarily more money designated for that region. A few years pass, more subdivisions and shopping centers along the two-lane rural road....and MUMPO is now forced to choose between widening this road (say NC 16 Providence Road towards Weddington.....or I-77 at Catawba Avenue in Cornelius) taking money away from more regionally significant projects or using that money to help finance widening I-77 from I-485 to NC 73, or I-85 from I-85 to NC 73, or completing I-485 from I-77 to I-85.

The problem with bad land use planning is that you create new transportation needs when you have been unable to take care of current needs. Do the urban areas need more money...ABSOLUTELY. Should they continue to create new problems for themselves through poor land use planning....No. Local planning orgainzations need to be more aggressive in controlling sprawl, thus reducing the number of highway improvement projects being added to a STIP that is full of projects without funding.

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Speaking of state-wide roads, it is just a little baffling to me the stretch of 85 though Salisbury that is 5 lanes per side at it's peak including an expensive oversized bridge spanning 52, what the hell is the point? It peters out back to 2 lanes before it ever gets to Kannapolis, so it can't be for commuter traffic from Salisbury to CLT, or GSO for that matter since there is a two lane stretch between them as well. Is this a Senator Dole pork project? At some point 85 up to Salisbury should be in the realm of Charlotte area planning, but seems nowhere near that point yet, and the funds spent at Salisbury would have been much better used in Meck.

Just to add some clarity.....NC is divided into fourteen districts for which transportation projects are funded. There is a group of individuals appointed by the governor known as the Board of Transportation. There is one board member for each division. Based off of RPO and MPO priorities, available funding, current active project schedules, and sometimes personal perogative, these invidiuals determine when projects in the STIP get planning funds, right of way funds, and construction funds. The I-85 corridor between Greensboro and Charlotte passes through part of 4 different divisions. Even though I-85 is a major state corridor, each division still has to make sure division significant projects are taken care of. The section of I-85 near the Yadkin River is part of the same division as Winston-Salem. According to the recently approved STIP, that project (TIP # I-2304) is scheduled to go to right of way and construction in FY 08 (schedule subject to change). It's really the same balancing at that's done at the state level being done at the local level. Also, many if not most projects are broken into sections for the purpose of construction and right of way acquisition.....MONEY. A prime example is the recently completed widening of I-85 from the US 29/NC 49 connector to I-485. That was actually part A of TIP Project I-3803. Part B from I-485 to NC 73 is currently in the planning and design phase.

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I came across this Memo written by Jim Humphrey who runs CDOT in response to UNCC Prof David Hartgen's "study" of congestion in Charlotte.

Full Memo

I have to say I pretty much agree with everything Jim wrote. My favorite part was this quote:

While the initial costs of building rapid transit will be high, its capacity per dollar spent will far exceed that of adding freeway lanes. To say that we should invest almost exclusively in today

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With all of the projects announced or under construction around Uptown, do you think that the taxi business will grow? And if so, to what extent will taxi service play into transit as a whole around Charlotte?

Personally, I used to live in the Myers Park area off of Providence Rd.-I was attending Queen's University at the time. The cab service was great from that part of town; we would call for a cab and it was about $8 to get to Trade and Tryon. When we were ready to leave you could always hail a cab to get out of downtown. Once or twice we had to call a cab from downtown (it was pretty late), but even then it was only 10 min. until the driver showed up.

I really see the taxi business playing a big role in Uptown, as long as we see high density projects continue to grow throughout that area.

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The fact that Division 5 (Rowan County) had enough money to pay for this widening, while Division 6 (Mecklenburg/Cabarrus) doesn't have the money to continue the widening all the way into town is undeniable. However, this is not necessarily indicitave of flaws in the equity formula, since Division 5 isn't exactly a rural division (contains Forsyth County.) It seems, to me, to simply indicate that this stretch of highway is not the immediate priority for Div. 6.

Technically, Rowan is in Div 9 and Meck/Cabarrus are in Div 10.

nc_divisions1.jpg

Any NC funding formula discussion has to make note that Loops like 485 are exempt from the equity formula, so keep that in mind.

Div 10's equity money is tied up on the next section of I-85 widening north of Concord Mills up to NC 73 (about $190M). Division 10 is actually borrowing against future federal dollars for this and the next leg of Independence Blvd to be able to finish them by about 2013.

Now, the funding formula being what it is explains why roads like 85 are widened as they are (in opposition to what many Charlotte residents would want). Div 9 spends quite a bit of it's money on Winston-Salem projects while projects such as the Yadkin Bridge gets pushed back on the schedule.

I find it interesting that we have someone complaining that the I-85 in Salisbury and the future Providence Rd are both too wide (too much planning!). So either DOT is doing too much or not enough. :rolleyes: Just shows you can never please everyone.

To me, the problem isn't the road itself. The problem is that our local government can't let it be JUST a road. It's absolutely nothing more than an expansion tool for developers.

Bad land use planning enables sprawl.....not only enables, facilitates sprawl. In the time that it takes to plan and build a road, you can build a dozen subdivisions... NCDOT can not control land use, so sprawl is dictated at the local level.

Great points there. I don't blame local govt exclusively for sprawl, though. To do so would be taking a very narrow-minded view, and the world is a lot more complex than that. Let's face the fact that the State of NC via it's implementor agency, NCDOT, builds roads with the knowledge that sprawl will occur in 95% of the state, so the state is right there in bed with the local govts in lining the same developers' pockets.

If the State of NC were *truly* serious about preventing sprawl, the Governor or General Assembly would enact severe conservation measures like urban growth boundaries (as found in OR) or funding incentives for areas that do control it well (say Chapel Hill, which does do a good job). As it is, no such regulations or incentives exist to force or reward local govts to address sprawl (can you say sprawl lobby?), so we get the status quo and the taxpayers get stuck with poor air quality, worsening congestion, cramped schools, etc.

The only way it will get better is by educating the others about the issue and making smart living and (of course) voting choices.

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