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Traffic Congestion and Highway Construction

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..... Their small minded attitude will always stand in the way of progress. Mooresville, Gastonia, etc. would most definitely benefit from a regional commuter rail system, but their leaders can't see past their noses. Just like Pineville and the Blue Line, which is why it stops st 485. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

To be fair they were not not given a viable plan to support. For the North Commuter Rail project, CATS presented Iredell with a proposal that basically asked Iredell/Moorseville to foot a ~$20M-$35M plan that was projected to carry just 300-500 people/day in 2025. Oh and it does not operate on the weekends. Furthermore CATS asked for an open ended commitment. That is, they really could not definitively tell them how much it would cost and each time they went there the amounts were different.

CATS totally did not understand the environment they were pitching this to. Presenting a $30M train project to a county that has a total budget of $165M without clearly saying why this should be important to Iredell was a big waste of time. I was at the meeting where Carroll presented this up there and all he could do was talk about it in nebulous terms like "when he lived in the DC suburbs". I can tell you that went over like a clown at a funeral. There was no way those commissioners could have supported that plan and survived politically. They were being asked to write a blank check to the city of Charlotte that would basically benefit a few people at the edge of their county. I don't consider it small minded for them to have turned down such a proposal.

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On the earlier comments about road building. The NC Legislature decided long ago that the method for driving economic development in NC is to build roads. It's nice and easy to criticize the leaders of the local municipalities for not supporting rail transit, but lets keep in mind the vast majority of transit funding in NC comes from the state and federal government. Charlotte is rich enough to play around with light rail, but its unreasonable to expect same from the surrounding counties that simply don't have the resources to do it on their own. Asking Huntersville to foot an additional $90M for the N CR line because it will help global warming just doesn't cut it. If change is going to happen then it has to happen at the state and the federal level.

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Sounds like there may have been some lack of experience on CATS side, too, trying to get them to sign on.

I'm from Long Island originally (long time ago) and it makes me wonder how the Long Island Railroad got built, with all the towns and townships it goes through in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Maybe because it was so much less populated then, I don't know.

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I think its important to point out that other counties- like Cabarrus- want to build the LRT out further. It just needs to be shown that its a successful mode of transportation.

North Carolina needs to stop trying to build roads to generate sprawl and 'economic development' and instead focus on easing congestion on the worst congested corridors where growth and economic development has already happened. They also need to focus on upgrading vital links between cities, including upgrading 85, and building out the US 74 corridor and a number of others.

Building roads as a tool for economic development isn't a problem. That has been happening for centuries upon centuries. Transportation of all kinds is THE tool for economic development everywhere and it always has been. So, I wouldn't attribute it to an antiquated NCDOT policy or anything like that. The problem comes down to design. The State doesn't mandate complete streets and appears to favor high capacity rural-thoroughfares over common sense and urban context. They also seem to prefer these interstate highways that serve no purpose. I agree that they should focus more on maintaining and upgrading what we have.

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[mb]I think its important to point out that other counties- like Cabarrus- want to build the LRT out further. It just needs to be shown that its a successful .[/bode of transportation]

Building roads as a tool for economic development isn't a problem. That has been happening for centuries upon centuries. Transportation of all kinds is THE tool for economic development everywhere and it always has been. So, I wouldn't attribute it to an antiquated NCDOT policy or anything like that. The problem comes down to design. The State doesn't mandate complete streets and appears to favor high capacity rural-thoroughfares over common sense and urban context. They also seem to prefer these interstate highways that serve no purpose. I agree that they should focus more on maintaining and upgrading what we have.

Remember, the North line is not Light Rail. It's commuter rail.

The Northeast line would be Light Rail.

After the experience in Los Angeles last week, I would be inclined to do that project right and add a dedicated track. Hard to justify financially, given the scheduled number of daily runs.

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......

After the experience in Los Angeles last week, I would be inclined to do that project right and add a dedicated track. Hard to justify financially, given the scheduled number of daily runs.

Actually the accident in Los Angeles could have been prevented by using a train control system that is in common use on the NE corridor and in Europe and Japan. The reason that it was not used in Los Angeles and most other places in the USA is because there is no money for it.
..... The State doesn't mandate complete streets and appears to favor high capacity rural-thoroughfares over common sense and urban context. They also seem to prefer these interstate highways that serve no purpose. I agree that they should focus more on maintaining and upgrading what we have.
The State via the NCDOT does not regulate urban streets. By state law that is the responsibility of the cities. Here in Charlotte that failure rests squarely on the heads of the Charlotte city council which approves every development that gets constructed which includes how the streets are laid out. Rural thoroughfares started as small country state roads where country and local governments allowed irresponsible growth around them that turned them into thoroughfares. If you want an excellent example of this happening in the last 10 years, go to the intersection of Hwy 16W and Huntersville-Mt. Holly Rd. (this is in Charlotte zoning). This was a winding low capacity road that basically served the Rozzells Ferry neighborhood where the city of Charlotte approved a Super Walmart strip mall, a Harris Teeter Strip mall, a 3rd new urbanist looking strip mall on the 3rd corner, and now has approved a strip mall on the 4th corner. All on a 2 lane road that was not designed to handle anything close to the amount of traffic this is generating. Now the state is going to be forced to 4 lane it.

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Remember, the North line is not Light Rail. It's commuter rail.

The Northeast line would be Light Rail.

My point is that Cabarrus is interested in transit at some level. Its not unreasonable to think that the same could happen to other counties when other modes are built.

The State via the NCDOT does not regulate urban streets. By state law that is the responsibility of the cities. Here in Charlotte that failure rests squarely on the heads of the Charlotte city council which approves every development that gets constructed which includes how the streets are laid out. Rural thoroughfares started as small country state roads where country and local governments allowed irresponsible growth around them that turned them into thoroughfares. If you want an excellent example of this happening in the last 10 years, go to the intersection of Hwy 16W and Huntersville-Mt. Holly Rd. (this is in Charlotte zoning). This was a winding low capacity road that basically served the Rozzells Ferry neighborhood where the city of Charlotte approved a Super Walmart strip mall, a Harris Teeter Strip mall, a 3rd new urbanist looking strip mall on the 3rd corner, and now has approved a strip mall on the 4th corner. All on a 2 lane road that was not designed to handle anything close to the amount of traffic this is generating. Now the state is going to be forced to 4 lane it.

Actually, that is not true. NCDOT regulates many roads within the city including state and federal highway routes along with other roads that are funded via the Powell Bill. CDOT has to request to take over state-maintained roads. So when I talk about the design of a street I am talking about issues such as capacity, user type, design speed, drainage, etc that all urban streets should address. NCDOT does not take into account the fact that certain roads need to be more urban in form. Their primary concern appears to be vehicle capacity and nothing else (since no human in their right mind should want to walk on their roads anyway!). For example, N Tryon (US29) in the vicinity of UNCC is designed the same as US74 in rural Cleveland County and yet University City is supposed to be an urban center of sorts. N Tryon in University City should be designed not as a highway, but as an urban street. The same argument can be made for South Tryon in the Steele Creek area. It was built with curb and gutter but no sidewalks, no bike lanes, no street trees, and no consideration that anyone other than a car or truck would ever use the road. This has nothing to do with the city or CDOT. Its purely NCDOT's dated roadway design practices since that part of S Tryon/York Rd was widened before it was annexed into the city.

You are talking specifically about land use issues with your Mt Holly example, which is an entirely separate (though related) subject from what I am talking about. The fact that NCDOT has to widen streets because of poor planning on the city's part is irrelevant when they don't design their streets right to begin with.

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.....

Actually, that is not true. NCDOT regulates many roads within the city including state and federal highway routes along with other roads that are funded via the Powell Bill. ....

I don't deny this. But you were referring to dead end streets and streets that make up the urban environment and those are under the control of the city. Every cul-de-sac in Charlotte was approved by the local government.

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I agree that NCDOT does not do a good job of considering urban context or designing & constructing modern urban streets, and is largely not equipped to do so. In many cases today, the state is getting out of that business, leaving more and more of the responsibilities to the municipalities, while still being forced to maintain the ownership and maintenance responsibility of the roadway system. To the city's credit, they have used their capabilities to take over some of these responsibilities from the state, something many other areas cannot or are not willing to do (put their money where their mouth is).

It is unfair, however, to criticize the state for the design of roadways that were rural in nature 30+ years ago, and were never intended to serve an urban context in the first place. As is the case in most NC cities, rural highways and farm-to-market roads were built many years ago to serve cars & trucks only (something that absolutely commonplace and accepted practice in that era), but as our cities have sprawled outward into the hinterlands, the consequences have placed financial and functional pressure on generations-old roadways that are today rendered inadequate.

So, lets not engage in revisionist history by blaming all that is bad on the state (despite it's current shortcomings), while ignoring the complicit actions taken by municipalities to help create the problems that exist today.

We are probably generations away from this point, but a more effective governance solution would be for the state to only worry about freeways and other state highways that almost exclusively carry cars and trucks (what they are good at) and grant some sort of regional entity the power to oversee all local & regional transportation and land use decisions. It might be through the MPOs or some other new entity, but in any case, until there is a body of elected officials who are empowered to fund local & regional transportation projects and *enforce* consistency with proper urban land use, there will continue to be major issues in the region related to growth and it's impacts.

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Chief- you are right, it is unfair to blame NCDOT for roads that have had the same design for 30 years. But in all fairness, South Tryon is an example where that is not the case. Its not as though the development that has occurred in the Steele Creek area was a surprise since much of it was already there when that road was widened.

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Were there any outcomes or news releases with the interstate lights issue in the recent times? Last night literally every light but maybe 2 were out on 277, then going north on I77 I don't recall seeing ANY lights on. And it was later at night too, probably around midnight.

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^^I've given up hope that we'll ever have interstate lights in Mecklenburg County as long as NCDOT has anything to do with it. They didn't even know it had been an ongoing decade-long issue until the mayor, the Charlotte Observer and the public started to call attention to it. Even then, when Barry Moose, the head of the local NCDOT division, managed to discover that Hwy. 24-27 actually went from Albemarle to a little town called Charlotte and saw the burnt-out lights firsthand, he said he was shocked as to the extent of the problem. Duh!

We've been told for months that they were going to get the issue fixed, first on the John Belk and the Brookshire and then on 85 and 77. Really? Drive these roads at night - the full length of them all - and let me know how many lights you count that actually function. Not many. I understand the circuitry on I-277 is old, but what about the relatively new lighting system on I-85 in northeastern Mecklenburg? What about Indpendence? What about I-77? And don't even get me started about the stolen copper issue. There has to be another way to wire the lights and there SURELY has to be a way to make the access panels to the wiring boxes tamper-proof. As I've said before, I find it hard to believe that Charlotte, NC is the copper theft capital of the country. I've never seen such an inability to keep highway lights burning in any other place I've ever been - in this state, in this country, or in this world. Not that I have strong feelings about NCDOT incompetence or anything.

Edited by PlazaMidwoodGuy

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NCDOT says they are not going to install new wiring for the lights for the time being since thieves keep taking it. They are going to study ways to improve the security of the lights. Who knows if it will ever happen.

The Observer (see the bottom of the article)

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A second "City States" report has been created for Charlotte, and its being released over time. The first installment includes an article that discusses transportation in Charlotte metro. Several observations and recommendations are made:

  1. The Monroe Bypass will only generate more sprawl, and Union County is having trouble dealing with the existing sprawl patterns. "The Monroe bypass is estimated to cost $757 million, approaching twice the cost of Charlotte's new Lynx Blue Line."
  2. The 485 loop is a dated 1970's concept. It generates the wrong kind of growth. Consider not completing it.
  3. Make the Garden Parkway a "truckway" to access the new intermodal center at the airport.
  4. There should be a goal of creating a region-wide tax to pay for regional transit.

Article

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^I took the time to read that Observer piece and shouldn't have bothered. It's based on simplistic assumptions that are not backed up by any thorough analysis, ignores the realities of how the surrounding areas view Charlotte, ignores history, and places all the blame solely on state government.

It's another fluff piece that sounds good but basically doesn't say anything relevant.

On the points above:

  1. Highway bypasses don't generate sprawl. Poor and non-existent local government planning, proper zoning and the lack of political will to say no to developers causes it. Union county has sprawl issues because they have a dismal record of allowing any kind of development no matter how bad or inappropriate.
  2. The Observer seems to forget there was a serious effort about 10-15 years ago to stop I-485. It didn't happen because the large land owners on the route raised hell and the city backed down from it. Pat McCroy, BTW was one of the ones who said it should be built. It should be noted that Mecklenburg and especially Charlotte has the worst sprawl in the region. Of course the Observer isn't going to go there.
  3. Truckway? Why should government build a road solely for private business?
  4. On the region wide tax. Even though they have been saying this for over a decade, there hasn't been one technical plan put forth that would give any county around Mecklenburg a reason to push for such a tax. The Observer ought to look at the reasons that Iredell said no to joining the MTC as a voting member. Of course they won't go there either because they don't bother to understand.
There is a reason this paper is in such a bad decline and this kind of "journalism" is one of them.

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3. Truckway? Why should government build a road solely for private business?

For the same reason any road gets built or widened - "to ease congestion." The idea being that a truckway would remove semi traffic from other roads.

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Monsoon, the Charlotte Observer only published these recommendations, they did not author them. These guys did.

1. Highways encourage sprawl, and there is no debate. Both the highway building and local government land development approval that are complicit in the results we see across the countryside.

2. I don't think 485 will stop... there's too much momentum behind it. But building these new highways isn't going to solve traffic congestion... that is the point he was making.

3. The author suggested that trucks pay fees or tolls to fund the road, perhaps a two lane truckway, which would be cheaper to build than a highway for both cars and trucks. Of course, that would defeat the sprawl-inducing plans of David Hoyle and Co in Gaston. I'd rather see truck-only lanes on I-85 instead of a new road, but it's an interesting idea.

4. Hopefully, those counties will get off their duff and produce such a plan, or it won't happen. It's certainly not Mecklenburg's responsibility to do so, although a positive example has been set with Lynx. It's possible that there will be a bill passed next year that will allow neighboring counties to levy a new (1/4 cent) transit tax. Commuter rail to Monroe... Rock Hill... Gastonia... Statesville... Salisbury? Why not?

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I think that the City States report series is interesting. These guys who wrote it know what they are talking about, and they don't appear to be making unreasonable suggestions. That article in and of itself wasn't much, but the entire series is more telling. I personally liked many of their suggestions.

The current City States report is being published in all of the papers in the Charlotte metro, not just the Observer. But you can read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/citistates

I have had a chance to read through it, but the 1995 City States report is available from the UNCC Urban Institute, here: http://www.ui.uncc.edu/

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I read this article today and thought many on here may be interested in it. PRT: Personal Rapid Transit is essentially a transit system that gives the individuality of a vehicle when inside, also is computer guided and not self driven. This concept- although many would critique it as being futuristic, would solve a lot of problems: energy/gasoline, accidents, insurance, would give jobs in research and construction, etc. I guess it's something that could be pondered upon whether anyone thinks this could be something that could intelligently be implemented in parts of the Charlotte metro and compliment the light rail, bus system, and future 2030 lines. I don't know how logical and obtainable it would be to make a rediculously huge system, but I think it could be something of interest to connect areas off of future transit lines to further connect areas and could be really beneficial to areas around the colleges and other areas of interest.

Something to ponder on and interesting when trying to connect a use for these implemented here in Charlotte.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/10/13/podcar.city.ap/index.html

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Every time I see an article extolling PRT as the transportation of the future, it makes me cringe. The upshot is that PRT promises the world - seamlessly melding the privacy, convenience, and speed of the personal automobile, with the capacity, environment-friendliness, congestion-proofness, and relaxation of rail transit. It aims to solve all our transportation problems (even some problems that don't exist) in one big revolutionary swoop, but advocates completely gloss over the gaping shortcomings of their proposed systems.

  • The amount, complexity, and cost of the infrastructure associated would be astronomical.
  • The gudeways are supposed to be "Attractive! Easy to build! Cheap! Practically invisible!" but when you think about the realities of engineering and construction that just isn't possible.
  • Some PRT conspiracy theorists will hold that the only thing standing in the way of PRT being deployed everywhere RIGHT NOW! is a transit planning-industrial complex hellbent on squashing innovation.
  • Most PRT plans rely on extremely tight headways as a means for achieving meaningful capacity. PRT advocates toss out statistics showing that a PRT will have MORE PRT vehicles per lane per second than a standard roadway. After all, it's automated, which eliminates human error, so therefore it should be foolproof, right? Uh huh. But how do you handle it when a PRT on an elevated guideway breaks down when it's being tailed by another PRT 1 second back?
  • The number of possible points of failure in a complicated city-wide or even neighborhood-wide PRT network are simply mind-boggling. They couldn't even get the Denver Airport's automatic luggage handling system right after pouring how many hundreds of millions into it?
  • PRT has essentially the same energy overhead as a private automobile. You still have to move a 2,000+ pound PRT car from door-to-door. It's electric, but it's still a lot of power.
  • PRT emphasizes the same dehumanizing "door to door convenience" aspects of automobile transportation. The entire journey is done in a private bubble, with zero interaction with the outside world.

Biking and walking are the two most efficient modes of human transportation. If we want to promote energy independence, we should do what we can to emphasize these as the primary modes of transportation wherever possible. Basically, the transportation revolution should not be through pie-in-the-sky unproven ge-whiz gizmos, but rather through land use. Denser neighborhoods, better streets, more easily accessible neighborhood retail. The proven workhorse of CONVENTIONAL transit can do a great job of bridging the gap when walking or biking doesn't doesn't cut it. And automobiles are still available for when they're needed.

You might dismiss this as FUD, but I really see PRT as exactly what we DON'T need to do in the US.

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So they want to create a system where everyone has their own electric-powered pod that takes your from your house to work? Its too bad they didn't think of that one already.

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The concept is decades old. There is an operational system that was built at Morgantown, WVa in 1971. It is still there today and actually carries more daily passengers than the Lynx light rail system. You can view information on it here. The cars were a bit larger than what is suggested in this article but they are driverless and can be directed to a certain station by the passengers. However as presented in the UrbanTransit section of UrbanPlanet, they are mostly impractical for anything beyond a school or airport.

156yh3n.jpg

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I notice there is some new signage on I-77 (north side) with some cloth draped over them. This I assume is an indication the I-485 section connecting I-77N to Hwy 16 is close to opening.

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1. Highways encourage sprawl, and there is no debate. Both the highway building and local government land development approval that are complicit in the results we see across the countryside.

I would argue that Highways with interchanges encourage sprawl. If they would build these "bypasses" w/o exits every mile, then you wouldn't have the sprawl and you would have a road that moves traffic efficiently around a metro area and alleviates congestion IN the metro area. A Monroe bypass shouldn't have any exits. It should move thru traffic around Monroe.

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^^ In an ideal world, I'd agree with you about the Monroe Bypass. But good luck getting the powers that be in Union County to go along with minimizing the number of interchanges. It's the same way with I-485 around Charlotte -- the number of interchanges was drastically increased from the original plan, mainly due to pressure from developers who wanted to put strip shopping centers, office parks and cookie cutter subdivisions on as many spots as possible. And for the most part, Charlotte said "sure thing!" Look for the same in Union County, a place that's even worse than Charlotte-Mecklenburg when it comes to allowing developers to run amok and have their way with pretty much everything.

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