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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.

I noticed that yesterday driving back into Charlotte from Mooresvegas. The wind had blown part of the canvas off the sign and you could see where it said "I-485 / Spartanburg."

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I stumbled upon a great website that has photos of Independence Blvd. just after it was finished in 1950. As you can see it is unrecognizable to anyone living in the city now and is an example of how these kinds of projects start out innocently enough.

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I noticed that yesterday driving back into Charlotte from Mooresvegas. The wind had blown part of the canvas off the sign and you could see where it said "I-485 / Spartanburg."

This morning the contractor is saying they essentially don't know when it will open. Rain and cold. Are these people accountable to anyone? Will the weather ever be good enough for them?

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I stumbled upon a great website that has photos of Independence Blvd. just after it was finished in 1950. As you can see it is unrecognizable to anyone living in the city now and is an example of how these kinds of projects start out innocently enough.

Thanks for that link. Its a good history lesson for new Charlotteans.

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Without a history lesson, no one will ever know that Independence Blvd ever had anything to do with the center city - especially since the renaming of Charlottown. All that's left is the off ramp from the Frwy section to the light at 7th St.

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The 485 delays have gotten absurd. $95M in overruns!? That could have built a heck of a lot of transit or roads elsewhere. NCDOT really needs to get their act together soon. There is no excuse for either letting a contractor go so far out of bounds and for failing to get them what they needed to start right away. It is like 485 has been pushed through quickly, it has been in the works for a lifetime.

And why is it that each time they miss a deadline, the answer is still 'no end in sight'? Do they just plan to move in and keep working there until they're old?

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To the anti-rail people's credit it is a "road" project. :)

I agree though. If they were to be consistent, their argument about cost overruns should be applied here too. I expect that the difference is that the LRT was a gamble in the sense that nobody was really sure how many people would use it. We know people will use I-485 and that more sprawl will be built to ensure that it remains as clogged as the Perimeter in Atlanta or the Beltway in DC for eternity. The city doesn't have an urban growth boundary- perhaps it is unnecessary at this point, but it would be useful to use one to better organize growth patterns.

The problem as I see it is that as long as the car remains the only viable mode of transportation in the suburbs, and gas remains cheap enough that people will drive over an hour to get to work, we will continue to have traffic problems on 485. Iredell, Cabarrus, Gaston, York, and Monroe are all seeing lots of growth and suburb to suburb commuting is a very real pattern that transit cannot fix. If Charlotte can successfully implement the Centers and Corridors then we will hopefully be able to mitigate the impacts to some extent.

Of course, the problem then becomes that the planning department and city council keep approving things where they don't belong and they don't appear to push for enough quality development that increases connectivity and transportation choice in the centers and corridors.

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NC is looking at adding tolls to 95, 85, 40, and 77. I-95 has been approved for tolls by the federal government. Tolls would be on the state-line only and would bring in enough revenue to widen the road by two lanes in each direction. For our area, they are looking at tolling I-77 from the SC border to I-40 in Statesville. That is projected to bring in over $1 billion in revenue which would help widen the road to two lanes in each direction.

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^Tolls are not permitted to be added retroactively to interstates without specific federal approval and only to be used for new construction on said highway. The feds don't allow the local state governments to turn highways that were built with federal funds into general revenue makers. I can see where they might approve an expansion on I-95 at the state line because that is a remote area and used mostly by people driving through the state. I don't see how they could toll I-77 up to exit 50 given these rules. Where they could make a toll road is the last section of I-485 between I-77N and I-85N.

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I see no point in tolling the remaining 5 mile section of 485 when the rest of it is free. Plus with the extra money that has been freed up from the Monroe Bypass, the last remaining section of 485 is the most likely candidate for the money. NCDOT is studying the idea of adding a toll to 77 as well as 85 and 40. I don't see how or where they could come up with the money (billions of dollars) to add improvements to any of those roads in the future without some sort of toll. I don't know what the rules are. I do know that the money collected from the tolls will be used to improve the road they are on only. I am just sharing information I found interesting after I read the article below.

http://www.wral.com/traffic/story/3921457/

Edited by nyxmike

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The '21st Century Transportation Committee' is doing a comprehensive analysis on how to resolve the significant backlog of projects and close the significant gap between funding and needs. These will be recommendations that will subsequently seek legislative approval.

Considering how many interstates, including I95, have tolls on it, I'm pretty sure this is always allowed at the federal level, probably with some degree of approval. The issue with doing it now is the NC law that requires a free alternative. This recommendation would either require an exception to be made in one or two cases, or a change in the underlying state law.

With the electronic tolling process proposed by NC Turnpike Authority, I'm not so sure this would be a bad idea, as it eliminates the need for huge toll booth plazas. Frankly, at this point in our history, there is an excessive reliance on the interstate system, and usage fees/tolls help to reduce frivolous demand while also increasing capacity. For example, if they were to toll 77 from SC to Statesville, it would help reduce some commuting on the interstate, which will help spur additional transit use and might reduce some of the sprawl at the northern and southern ends of the metro. And for most, the widening would be well worth the costs because of it might save them more in time than the toll is worth (time is money). My hope would be for that plan, if it is going to happen, to be approved before engineering of the North line, so that that can be factored into the ridership projections of that line to help gain federal financing.

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.... I am just sharing information I found interesting after I read the article below.

http://www.wral.com/traffic/story/3921457/

The reporter has his facts wrong. It's not surprising as I am going to assume the local media in Raleigh has about the same level of "investigative journalism" as we have here in CLT. It is interesting that the only place where they did get an approval to do this in NC was on the outer outer beltway yet he doesn't know what limits were placed on that by the feds.

The limitations of placing toll roads on existing highways and of the potential that a toll would bring to getting the last part of 485 built a decade sooner has been thoroughly discussed here at UrbanPlanet.

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*IF* the state were allowed to convert these interstates into tolls, would it be possible to have NC residents use the road for free or at a significantly reduced price compared to out of state travelers? Honestly, with the infrastructure of our nation's road system, I think the laws should be changed to allow conversion of tolls. Perhaps some middle ground could be found when converting the interstates to tolls.

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In case anyone wants to bypass the media, you can go directly to the commission's website for more info. They don't yet have the minutes from last week's meeting up, FYI.

Many of these proposals would require federal approval and/or changes in state law, but the commission is empowered to look at all the potential options, weigh them and make recommendations to the General Assembly for the legislative long session in January. There have been a lot of proposals, but here are just a few, I've heard beyond what's been mentioned here already:

  • 1/2 cent sales tax for transit (Triangle, Triad, Asheville, Wilmington) & 1/4-cent transit tax for counties bordering those & Mecklenburg (Union, Alamance, Chatham, etc)
  • 1-cent local options tax (in addition to the 1/2 cent) for roads and/or transit investments (all counties)
  • having the state divest itself of some or all of the state roads to the counties and cities (with some additional state funds to help maintain them)
  • tolling all the loops (485, 540, etc)
  • a VMT tax, that would tax drivers based on mileage driven, instead of fuel consumed (this is still a number of years away from being viable due to privacy and technology issues; there are studies underway)

Personally, I like the sales tax as a funding scheme for transit, but not for roads or schools. The sales tax is regressive, but at least with transit, it targets the less fortunate (who pay more as a percentage of their wealth and may not have cars) most directly. Roads should be funded through some other local measure (property taxes, bonds) or through some sort of user fee, like a VMT tax or tolls. I'm all for tolls on the interstates where they make sense and generate the most revenue, especially from out-of-state drivers. Perhaps this would have drivers realize that roads are subsidized too, and push more people to look for mass transit options within the urban areas and intercity high-speed rail between the Piedmont cresent cities, Richmond and DC (plus passenger rail extensions to Asheville & Wilmington).

As much as the counties & cities may complain about having roads dumped into their lap, given them control of most of the regional/local roads would be among the best solutions for improving the land use-transportation connection. As it stands, the NCDOT maintains the 1st or 2nd # of miles of roads of any state in the nation. This 1930s-era arrangement (when the state took over control from cash strapped/bankrupt counties) is not sustainable in the 21st century and clearly doesn't work for anyone. The state is overburdened with responsibilities it can't meet, and the cities & towns are overburdened with growth they say they cannot control, leading to each blaming the other for the results. Ceding local control of roads would put the responsibility on municipalities and counties to better manage land use decisions (no more blaming Raleigh for the traffic caused by the poorly-designed strip malls & big boxes) and allow DOT to focus on the main highways (NC, US, I) and railways to more closely align with statewide priorities.

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I think they are on the right track with a seemingly impossible situation. They must innovate and break the current legislated structure if they are going to cut through the issues.

I'm tempted to prefer the concept of the sales tax, as we know its provide a reasonable stream of revenue that consumers are used to paying and it theoretically is voluntary (no one compels people to buy stuff). But it is easy to imagine the sales tax proceeds being hurt considerably in the next year or two at a time when maximum infrastructure investment is most needed.

Tolls are annoying, but as I wrote above, with the electronic means of payment and billing (either a high speed ez-pass type device or a photo of your license plate to be billed later), traffic can move efficiently through, so that issue is reduced or removed. Tolls, however, are like transit fares in that even it is mostly subsidized, users contribute some to the maintenance and expansion funds. This helps allow for roads that are heavily traveled and need the expansion and maintenance to actually receive the funding to be expanded and maintained.

Really, none of the options is a good option, but it is good that we have a group that is investigating and brainstorming all of the options so that something can be done to solve the issues. The broken 'equity formula' can't be removed by an evolutionary process because the East is so politically powerful in the legislature. Instead, we need revolutionary proposals that change the structure of our transportation financing system.

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Tolls are annoying, but when you put them at the state-line, most people aren't affected unless you are an out of state drive traveling through or you are leaving the state. The only one that would affect commuters is the 77 toll (for people who commute from SC to Charlotte or vice versa). Plus the new technology makes it easier and less of a hassle. If it is possible, I don't think it is a bad idea. I-77 has two free alternatives: South Tryon Street and South Boulevard. A good amount of people commute from SC to Charlotte and add congestion to I-77. York County has already surpassed the 200,000 mark and continues to grow by about 10-12,000 people a year. The people who use the road and add to the congestion are the ones who would help pay to improve it.

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Another thought is that toll interstates that people use to commute from exurban areas tends to reduce the large subsidy on a detrimental land use pattern. Of course, if it is done at the SC line and in Statesville, this would primarily affect people living in SC to commute to Charlotte.

That group probably needs to be affected the most, as people who do that tend to buy their gas in SC because of the lower taxes, and I'm not sure that they pay NC income tax (although, maybe companies do withhold for NC taxes if the money is earned in NC).

77 will be unbelievably costly to expand within that zone (SC to Statesville). Near downtown there are neighborhoods on both sides, Frazier park/Irwin Creek, and many interchanges. South of 277/Belk, there is a need to replace every interchange and I believe some projects are also very close to freeway as it is. North of 485, there is more room in the right of way, but there is a long section needing widening.

The only part of 77 even list on the NCDOT TIP is the section north of 485. That is all unfunded through 2015, and is budgeted at a cost of $645M. I have seen estimates for the southern section at $1-2B depending on circumstances, but it is not on the TIP to see what NCDOT uses as an estimate. So if 77 ALONE is, say, $2B (1.35B South, .65B North) you start to see some of the issues that that the 21CT Commission is wrestling with statewide.

The last sections needing widening on 85 (including the Yadkin bridge) add $760m. The last sections of 485 (including the minor expansion of the southern section) add $270m.

So in the Charlotte area alone there are $3B in needs for the interstate system. To put that in perspective, the revenues for the gas and car taxes statewide are only $2.1B. And every city and region in NC has not only interstate expansion needs, but maintenance needs, sidewalk needs, traffic signal needs, railroad needs, and not to mention the building of new freeway connections now that the state is much larger. Then add transit to the mix and the bank is broken.

Tolls seem to be the most practical way to go to close the gap for interstate expansion.

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http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/story/248173.html

The Citistates report is out and takes a position strongly against virtually all freeway expansions in the region. Personally, I am against the excessive freeway capacity like you see in much larger cities like Atlanta. To me, the maximum a freeway should be is 4 through lanes, possibly with auxiliary land and an HOV above that.

At this point, I do believe the Charlotte metro needs to expand from the rural capacity in its connections in and out of the city, even if there is some level of risk to support bad commuting behavior. Realistically, we all rely on cars at some point, and need to be able to get in and out of the city, so it serves us little to have that interstate capacity be limited to the levels built when Charlotte had a million fewer people.

As mentioned above, I think funding that expansion with tolls is a good way to reduce the subsidization of sprawl, while still creating vital infrastructure capacity for use by cars, trucks, and buses.

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http://www.charlotteobserver.com/breaking/story/371354.html

I'm curious, does anyone know (I guess chiefly, JoJo...pun is sadly intended), if NCDOT plans to reestimate the cost of certain projects now that materials cost inflation has slowed, and now we face the real possibility of price decreases with gas going doing so far. I would be great to see projects in the 7 year docket to be reestimated and help them bridge the shortfall seen by the lower gas tax revenues.

It does seem that while they call it a perfect storm in one way, it does feel like a perfect storm that will drive the 21st Century Transportation Committee to gain political traction to make the changes they propose.

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My sense is that any gains in buying power caused by downward economic pressure from lower material prices and contractor bids would be negated or even worsened by the reduced revenue from the gas tax and vehicle fees, since people are driving less and buying fewer cars.

Unfortunately, we are at this point, because of lack of political will from our state leaders who have repeatedly punted on the difficult issue of redesigning a revenue system for transportation in this state. The writing has been on the wall for years that the gas tax is an unsustainable revenue source, but nobody has acted. In fact, if you recall (talked about earlier in this thread IIRC, 2006?) the state even voted to cap the gas tax, even though the tax rate was determined largely based on the market price of refined oil, and not by politicians.

IMO, just like the economy and seemingly everything else these days, I don't see any way out of this that won't be painful. If I had glimpse into the likely future, my guess is that there will be zero tolerance for any statewide tax increases, so the push will be for more tolls on the interstates, perhaps 77, 95, and 85 at Yadkin River. It's also a possibility that the state will continue it's tradition of punting their responsibilities and unfunded mandates down to the cities and counties. But, so long as a revenue source is enabled at the local level, I see that as being a very effective way to deal with the problem, despite the less than honorable intentions by state govt. As I've said before, the current statewide maintenance system is not sustainable and it's only a matter of time before control of roads is ceded to local govt. Frankly, most roads are local in nature anyway, so it stands to reason that local govt is the best entity to manage that system.

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This is a good example of why I roll my eyes when I hear people complain about backed up roads: (from Treehugger, citing The Boston Globe

"According to the Boston Globe, while the Big Dig succeded in increasing "overall mobility by allowing more people to travel at peak times. . .most travelers who use the tunnels are still spending time in traffic jams - just not in the heart of the city, where bumper-to-bumper was a way of life on the old elevated artery." In other words, whereas traffic jams were primarily a downtown phenomenon, "the bottlenecks [have been] pushed outward, as more drivers jockey for the limited space on the major commuting routes."

In fact, the time it takes to travel certain routes has actually doubled as a result of the project. What's perhaps more surprising than these findings is the fact that no one saw it coming. After all, what did people expect? If you build more roads, and don't at the same time provide for more public transit, then sure enough, more people will drive on those roads. At first, people who would avoid driving during rush hour because of the maddening traffic start driving again as they see that the roads are more open. Before long, the expanded roads are filled to capacity again, a new stasis is achieved, and there is a demand for more roads."

It's that age old phenomenon of induced demand, a phenomenon that seems conveniently ignored when the masses are demanding wider roads. Its why I have no interest in seeing 85 or 77 widened. Its also why the completion of 485 hovers somewhere below my list of priorities. Its not going to fix anything. Its just going to cost more money and enable even more unsustainable growth.

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This is a good example of why I roll my eyes when I hear people complain about backed up roads: (from Treehugger, citing The Boston Globe

"According to the Boston Globe, while the Big Dig succeded in increasing "overall mobility by allowing more people to travel at peak times. . .most travelers who use the tunnels are still spending time in traffic jams - just not in the heart of the city, where bumper-to-bumper was a way of life on the old elevated artery." In other words, whereas traffic jams were primarily a downtown phenomenon, "the bottlenecks [have been] pushed outward, as more drivers jockey for the limited space on the major commuting routes."

In fact, the time it takes to travel certain routes has actually doubled as a result of the project. What's perhaps more surprising than these findings is the fact that no one saw it coming. After all, what did people expect? If you build more roads, and don't at the same time provide for more public transit, then sure enough, more people will drive on those roads. At first, people who would avoid driving during rush hour because of the maddening traffic start driving again as they see that the roads are more open. Before long, the expanded roads are filled to capacity again, a new stasis is achieved, and there is a demand for more roads."

It's that age old phenomenon of induced demand, a phenomenon that seems conveniently ignored when the masses are demanding wider roads. Its why I have no interest in seeing 85 or 77 widened. Its also why the completion of 485 hovers somewhere below my list of priorities. Its not going to fix anything. Its just going to cost more money and enable even more unsustainable growth.

I agree, but I also disagree with you on a few points. The problem with cities like Atlanta is that their highways are too wide and for us some of our highways are too small. For example, I-85 in Cabarrus, I-77 in North Mecklenburg, and I-485 in South Charlotte are (or were once) rural highways serving an urban area. I don't think any major highway in an urban area should be 2 lanes on each side but I also don't think they should be more than 4 lanes on each side. With only 5 miles left of 485, completing it should be a top priority. The road is almost complete so they might as well just finish it. I live in the University Area since I go to school at UNCC and completing 485 would make life a lot easier for a lot of people in this area. It would connect 77 and 85 in much less time (and miles) than Harris Boulevard. I am very pro-transit, but you can't just let the roads wither away. You need a well rounded transportation system and that does include roads and highways. Right now, some of Charlotte's highways are carrying heavy amounts of traffic and they need to be upgraded from rural to urban standards.

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The problem with cities like Atlanta is that their highways are too wide and for us some of our highways are too small.

But at what point does a highway become "too wide"? One could argue that I-485 between 77 and Rea Road is just as congested as any point around the I-285 ATL loop, but with a tremendous difference in lane capacity. If/when that stretch of 485 gets bumped from four to eight lanes, the congestion may ease for a while but there will still be times of day when it is backed up, and because it is an "easier" drive more people will use it, creating more congestion still.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't build new roads or widen existing ones: streets are the lifeblood of any city, and good streets are the city. But there is a point of diminishing returns that we have to accept for any road - to suggest that some highways are exempt from that rule will just keep us trapped in the current cycle of build-widen-build-widen more-build more.

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