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Traffic Congestion and Highway Construction


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http://ncturnpike.org/projects/monroe/

http://ncturnpike.org/projects/gaston/

It seems that both the Monroe bypass and the Gastonia bypass will begin construction this year, with the Monroe bypass completing in 2013 and Gastonia completing in 2014.

Since those are toll projects that are funded by bonds on future income, you can't compare them to other projects that must compete with general funds for budgeting.

Southslider, are you suggesting that NCDOT is looking into including Harris to 485 as a turnpike project? I actually wrote the turnpike people an email a couple years ago suggesting that very thing, and hope they do it. The section from Albemarle to Conference is already funded and will begin soon, and the section from Conference to Harris is the top priority and likely to be funded with the next TIP. It seems worthwhile to go ahead and complete the rest with a toll since they can coordinate easily with the currently planned tollway. I like the idea of urban freeways being tolls because it helps even the playing field as commuters chose between transit and driving.

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Some new pics were posted of the I-77 toll project. Also, a newsletter update was posted. Pics: https://www.i77express.com/gallery/i-77-express-construction-works-april-2019/ Newsletter: htt

Assortment of recent I-77 traffic/construction photos via NCDOT 

I meant to mention this the other day last week sometime the new on ramp flyover from 277 to 77 south opened. 

Posted Images

I think toll roads, the way NC plans to implement that payment process (no congested toll booth areas), is a great way to fund roads that otherwise just sit on the drawing boards for decades.

Our two regional toll projects both may be starting points in this regard. While the Garden Parkway seems extremely random and from thin air, the fact that it is moving forward is proof that a project that wouldn't be able to compete as well for general funds CAN move forward under the NC Turnpike division as long as they can expect sufficient revenues from tolls.

I hope they can take a look at expanding some of the boundaries of these two toll roads for a second phase extending further into the city and also extending further out.

Right now, these roads are built to service Gaston and Union counties exclusively, yet the roads within Mecklenburg county that they feed to are difficult to fund. As I mentioned above, it would make perfect sense to have the outer portion of Independence after Crowne Pt be an inward extension of the Monroe Tollway. Like they are doing in Indian Trail, they would have a free local service lanes on the outer edge to allow for short trips to the businesses, with express tolled lanes in the center. This section of Independence is only estimated to cost $55m because half of it is already a freeway, perhaps even an HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lane could expect enough revenue to pay for the whole upgrade in this section.

In the case of the Garden Parkway, there is the relocated West Blvd Relocation that it feeds onto on its way to Billy Graham Parkway. The West Blvd relocation was ~$40m that was recently funded, but there is also a $14m interchange with Billy Graham Pkwy that is on the list of top 20 unfunded projects. Why not just tie that extra 3 miles into the Garden Parkway for a little extra revenue to pay for that interchange?

Even if the above is controversial because they also act as city boulevards, which is hard to seal for a tollway, the other aspect of my point would be to extend the tollways out farther one more county to cover two projects that are missing links in the inter-regional freeway system. The Garden Parkway ends just before Kings Mountain. Why not extend into Cleveland County as the Shelby Bypass. Right now, the Shelby Bypass is $315m and is an obvious missing link between Charlotte and Asheville.

The same goes for the section between the Monroe Bypass and the Rockingham Bypass through Anson county. That is a $400m unfunded section that is a major missing freeway link between Charlotte and the planned I-74 to the coast.

Why not make these elevate these toll projects to be more than just sprawl supporters, why not extend them a bit more to make major strides in the infrastructure connecting Charlotte to other parts of the state.

The Turnpike Authority recently extended the boundaries of other toll projects. They extended the Triangle Parkway to become the entire southern leg of the Raleigh's outer loop. It seems just as practical to extend the projects in our regions to fill gaps in the statewide transportation system that are almost hopeless in being funded.

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I think toll roads, the way NC plans to implement that payment process (no congested toll booth areas), is a great way to fund roads that otherwise just sit on the drawing boards for decades.

Our two regional toll projects both may be starting points in this regard. While the Garden Parkway seems extremely random and from thin air, the fact that it is moving forward is proof that a project that wouldn't be able to compete as well for general funds CAN move forward under the NC Turnpike division as long as they can expect sufficient revenues from tolls.

I hope they can take a look at expanding some of the boundaries of these two toll roads for a second phase extending further into the city and also extending further out.

Right now, these roads are built to service Gaston and Union counties exclusively, yet the roads within Mecklenburg county that they feed to are difficult to fund. As I mentioned above, it would make perfect sense to have the outer portion of Independence after Crowne Pt be an inward extension of the Monroe Tollway. Like they are doing in Indian Trail, they would have a free local service lanes on the outer edge to allow for short trips to the businesses, with express tolled lanes in the center. This section of Independence is only estimated to cost $55m because half of it is already a freeway, perhaps even an HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lane could expect enough revenue to pay for the whole upgrade in this section.

In the case of the Garden Parkway, there is the relocated West Blvd Relocation that it feeds onto on its way to Billy Graham Parkway. The West Blvd relocation was ~$40m that was recently funded, but there is also a $14m interchange with Billy Graham Pkwy that is on the list of top 20 unfunded projects. Why not just tie that extra 3 miles into the Garden Parkway for a little extra revenue to pay for that interchange?

Even if the above is controversial because they also act as city boulevards, which is hard to seal for a tollway, the other aspect of my point would be to extend the tollways out farther one more county to cover two projects that are missing links in the inter-regional freeway system. The Garden Parkway ends just before Kings Mountain. Why not extend into Cleveland County as the Shelby Bypass. Right now, the Shelby Bypass is $315m and is an obvious missing link between Charlotte and Asheville.

The same goes for the section between the Monroe Bypass and the Rockingham Bypass through Anson county. That is a $400m unfunded section that is a major missing freeway link between Charlotte and the planned I-74 to the coast.

Why not make these elevate these toll projects to be more than just sprawl supporters, why not extend them a bit more to make major strides in the infrastructure connecting Charlotte to other parts of the state.

The Turnpike Authority recently extended the boundaries of other toll projects. They extended the Triangle Parkway to become the entire southern leg of the Raleigh's outer loop. It seems just as practical to extend the projects in our regions to fill gaps in the statewide transportation system that are almost hopeless in being funded.

You know.. all of this is fine and dandy...but does anyone on this site really believe that the Garden Parkway is a necessary thing?? ...and that in some respect the State of North Carolina and it's tax paying public will be the ultimate bond holders if the toll tax revenue doesn't meet what I believe are overly optimistic traffic projections ???

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I have never thought the Garden Parkway was needed. Even during rush hour the congestion on 85 South towards Gastonia is nowhere as bad as 85 North towards Concord....I really think this is being done for political purposes...there is a member of the NC Legislature that stands to profit directly if this road is built...surprise surprise surprise.

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I've heard that traffic analyses show that the Garden Parkway's impact will be minimal. Traffic isn't that bad in Gastonia or on 85 during rush hour.

What I don't understand is how they can knock off $300 million from the project. That's a significant amount of money, so what is it they we're losing here? Also, I find it hard to believe that this project will be ready to start construction in less than a year. Have they even purchased right of way for the road? Who in their right mind would pay money to take this road when 90% of the time I-85 isn't congested and free of charge?

As much as I believe in planning for the future, I think this is one example of how not to do it, and it shows how having multiple MPOs in our metro area is counter-productive.

One thing that is needed and that would be useful, however, is the bridge that they want to build over the Catawba. IMO they should build that and put a toll on it.

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The Garden Parkway is going to end up like the Southern Connector in Greenville, S.C. - a failure. Traffic there is half of what was projected.

Here's a good write-up on it: Greenville Southern Connector headed for bankruptcy

From the article, it was "located to serve development, not to relieve congestion."

North Carolina is taking a huge gamble on the Garden Parkway.

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The difference with Greenville is that it connects an industrial county with the freight terminal of a major airport and an upcoming intermodal terminal to transfer freight to rail. Freight trucks will be charged more and are willing to pay for the privilege of avoid traffic. I also think that the regional growth of the Charlotte metro is incomparable to Greenville, and while I'm not thilled about it, this will open up a new area for growth on the west side of Lake Wylie.

Don't get me wrong, I'd be completely fine with them canceling it. But I think the comparisons with Greenville tollway is not valid.

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While you have some good points, there is still the fact that the road serves little purpose. There is little to no advantage of using the Garden Parkway just as there is no advantage in using the Southern Connector in Greenville.

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This road is probably less about reducing congestion and more about bringing growth to Gaston County (which could really use an economic boost). A commuter rail line to Charlotte would also help, but I'm not sure the ridership is there yet. Do a lot of people commute from Gaston to Mecklenburg? Since many have said that traffic on I-85 is not that bad, it doesn't seem like many people do.

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This road is probably less about reducing congestion and more about bringing growth to Gaston County (which could really use an economic boost). A commuter rail line to Charlotte would also help, but I'm not sure the ridership is there yet. Do a lot of people commute from Gaston to Mecklenburg? Since many have said that traffic on I-85 is not that bad, it doesn't seem like many people do.

Although I personally also think its not needed, I think it stands a better chance of success than the Southern Connector, which goes from nowhere to nowhere and doesn't even bypass all that much. At least the Garden Parkway does feed into a major metro area, Charlotte. The SC doesn't feed anything and the traffic counts reflect that.

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At least the Garden Parkway does feed into a major metro area, Charlotte.

Except that it feeds into the middle of 485. The only thing it buys you is if you're going to South Charlotte. Or, I suppose if you're continuing northeast on 85, you could take 485 around the south side to get back to 85.

For anybody going anywhere IN Charlotte itself, they'll have to: 1) Go back north to 85 once they hit 485, or 2) Go south to 77 to go north into the city, or 3) Take relatively minor East Blvd into the city.

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85 in Gaston is congested during rush hour. I've been in stop and go traffic multiple times when trying to leave town to the west. In five years when the Garden Parkway is expected, that would be incrementally worse, and same with 10, 15, and 20 years down the line.

Also, it doesn't just feed into 485, it also feeds a new West Blvd that will be a lot like a parkway design going all the way to Billy Graham. And of course, West Blvd can be followed all the way to South End.

I still believe that we will say a large usage of this for trucking, and that it will spur population growth in southern Gaston county. In many ways, this is Gastonia's beltway, and so it is likely to act that way in driving new retail, housing, and office parks.

In a region the size of Charlotte's, an open road will draw people and will be an advantage. If it were equally congested, it would not be an advantage. All that said, the Monroe bypass will be considerably more successful

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Does anybody think that NC lawmakers could/should consider voting to enable tolls on existing roads/bridges?

I think if used sparingly, they absolutely should allow tolls on current freeways, especially those used for commuting. Exurban residents often view transit as being subsidized because the fare never covers all costs, but fail to consider the 100% subsidy on expensive interstate freeways, which they demand to be widened like crazy.

That said, unless the toll were to be used to expand the road (which has a benefit along with the cost) like on Independence, I would not want to see them add tolls inside of 485. I think tolls should be used to help offset the costs of the roads between the core county, Mecklenburg, and nearby counties, especially at the state line.

Our revenue system is broken and has a hard time keeping up with the exponential growth of vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

I believe they require legislative action for each conversion to tollway, which I'm fine with, as it will force it to be used sparingly.

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^There are a lot of jobs in South and Southwest Charlotte accessible from 485, especially between Whitehall and Ballantyne. Plus, there are jobs south and southwest of Uptown along 77 and Billy Graham and the Coliseum/Airport area. Even South Park becomes a quicker commute from Gaston County.

I still don't think the Garden Parkway is as high of a priority as the Monroe By-Pass or even linking that project with Uptown via Independence expressway conversion. But if you accept a tradition of car-centered solutions and easing suburb-to-suburb commutes, as NCDOT usually does, the Garden Parkway is rational.

Edited by southslider
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I agree, I thought the Garden Parkway was going to be a freeway connection to the current 321 freeway.

There is debatable value in urban loops built to support the outer edge of a population center. But NC has gone whole hog (you know I always intend my goofy puns) in support of urban loops for large and medium sized cities.

Take the top 10 counties by population in the state:

MECKLENBURG (Charlotte)

WAKE (Raleigh)

GUILFORD (Greensboro)

FORSYTH (Winston-Salem)

CUMBERLAND (Fayetteville)

DURHAM (Durham)

BUNCOMBE (Asheville)

GASTON (Gastonia)

NEW HANOVER (Wilmington)

UNION (Monroe)

Every single one of those counties will have what amounts to an urban loop or bypass around them with the exception of Durham which already has most of its population between 85 and 40 (so it already has a freeway on the outer edge of its main population base).

I think all of us are thinking in terms of what it would do for commuters to Charlotte and getting around Charlotte, but we can't forget that Gaston county has a sizable population in its own right.

And zooming out, it at least makes some sense in the typical order of urban freeways, having linear freeways toward the the heart of an urban center and a somewhat circular freeway toward the edge.

Thankfully, our planned freeway network, even with Garden Parkway, makes some sense, unlike the puked-up spaghetti plans for the Triad. The Triad's freeway network is already a hot mess, but the future plans are even more ridiculous -- although I'm glad they have the possibility of one correction to their mess with their 3rd option for 73 being the simplified use of the beltway and then directly out 220 vs the crazy zig-zags they planned before. http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/departments/GDOT/divisions/planning/metro/projectsandstudies/ConnectorFeasibility.htm (The only thing that makes sense to me about the Triad freeway network is that the 40/business 40 combinations make W-S look like it's frowning and Greensboro looks like it's smiling, that's about right.)

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The Garden Parkway is suppose to be a highway. It was going to be 3 lanes each way from 485 to 321 and then two lanes each way from 321 to 85. In order to save money and get it built, the plan is to now make it 2 lanes each way from 485 to 321 and one lane each way (even though it is for not too long of a distance, who is going to pay a toll for what will basically be a country road?) from 321 to 85. Of course the right of way will allow for it to be widened in the future.

I agree with cutting down the lanes from 3 to 2, but not the 2 to 1 part. If they are going to build this, they shouldn't half ass it and build a one lane "highway". Find the money elsewhere to make the whole thing 2 lanes in each direction or don't build it.

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^Control (or management) of access is just as important as number of lanes. If Independence had fewer driveways and signals, it wouldn't need so many lanes. So if the link to 321 can be planned with control of access (imagine a straighter, faster Blueridge Parkway), it may operate fine with just two lanes. Of course, if Gastonia had helped managed access and control development on 321 in the first place, that link may not even need a bypass. But you could almost say the same thing about Union County towns along 74, which was originally built as the bypass. Likewise, Shelby is having to plan its third bypass, or the ridiculous bypass of the bypass.

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http://ncturnpike.org/pdf/Garden%20Parkway%2002-25-2010.pdf

I missed this detail at first. But now that I've read through this, I am truly intrigued. Basically the instincts of everyone here are partially correct. They started with a design that NCDOT might have done, but the toll revenue study would not support the $1.2B costs, so they cut 1/4 by making changes to the designs that reflect the lower usage expected.

I gotta say, though, it is a little jarring to see the 2-lane road west of 321. I'm not as far as you are Mike, though, in saying it is not worth building. In fact, I have long thought that NCDOT in general goes straight for the highest capacity road possible instead of just building in a way that can be upgraded. (Think City Blvd to Neal Rd, which could be a 2-lane road until it goes somewhere). But the problem is they have to do that because it would have to back on the 15 year waiting list for the project to expand the initial build. NCTA, however, has a revenue source and can go ahead and expand the road with the utilization. So it makes it a lot more reasonable to build the smaller capacity at first.

Even though it is not always a great idea to not allow room for growth, I do like that they condensed the interchanges in general. Frankly, it goes along further with what everyone is saying that the 'need' is more modest in this area, but it also makes sense in the Turnpike model versus the typical NCDOT, as when they have the need for such a capacity, they will also have the revenue that goes along with it, so they can buy the land then too.

They've created flexible designs both for their ideal and the lower cost option. It seems that if the poor economy causes a reduction in the costs when construction companies bid, it actually mean that what gets built maybe better than the spartan plan presented here. This economy seems like the rare times when that might be the case.

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That slideshow eases the pain a bit. Also, I understand that turnpikes are different from loops are different from roads are different from transit. However, stepping back and taking a simple-man's point-of-view is what frustrates me.

That is: In NC, there is a LIMITED supply of money and resources, and essentially an UNLIMITED supply of need. Given that, does another road from Gastonia to Charlotte really make sense?

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I wasn't trying to compare Greenville and Charlotte. That's definitely a long stretch.

My point is that it parallels an existing highway (I-85) similar to the way the Southern Connector does in Greenville. No one is going to pay to cut off only a few minutes of their trip when they already have a free, multi-lane freeway. So there will be no reduction in traffic on I-85. The only reason to use it will be if you live along it.

The sole point of the Garden Parkway is to spur development. I thought North Carolina was starting to move away from that mentality? While it is more likely that the Garden Parkway will actually induce development (given its location to Charlotte), there is no guarantee. That was why I used the Southern Connector as an example. Greenville had projected traffic volumes higher than what is forecast for the Garden Parkway, but has seen half of that number. Of course if the forecast for the Garden Parkway is actually accurate, this will not be an issue.

And speaking of traffic volumes for the Garden Parkway . . . 20,000 vehicles in 2030?! They were going to build six-lanes for only 20,000 cars twenty years from now? I-26 has four lanes and over 70,000 vehicles south of Asheville, but widening remains unfunded while this pork project gets the fast track? (Yes, I know the Garden Parkway is a turnpike project and funding is different, etc.) It just shows how screwed up highway priorities still are in this state.

If they're already having to scale this project back to meet expected toll revenue, it's in trouble before it even gets started.

Edited by cowboy_wilhelm
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So if I am reading that document right by 2015 the Garden Parkway would decrease 85 traffic by 400 cars per day. That is a less than 1% decrease in projected traffic by 2015. And then in 2030 according to DOT the Garden Parkway would actually INCREASE traffic on I-85. So if the whole point of the Garden Parkway is to "reduce congestion" it completely fails.

It seems to me this a 100% economic development project...mainly because of a State Senator who owns property along the proposed route.

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Does anybody have proof, or links to proof, of the (2?) politicians with property along the route? I can effort it myself with POLARIS and the Gaston equivalent -- but if somebody already has it, I'd rather not.

Edited by grodney
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