The state will delay widening Independence Boulevard from Albemarle Road to Conference Drive by six months to plan for possibly adding toll lanes in the future.
The N.C. Department of Transportation had planned to begin work in July on the $160 million project, which is part of a decades-long effort to transform Independence into an expressway. When the project is finished, the state will have widened the highway and also built new interchanges at Sharon Amity Road, Idlewild Road and Conference Drive.
The city sought the delay so the state could implement recommendations from the Urban Land Institute, which studied the project last year to better integrate the highway into surrounding neighborhoods. Work is now expected to start in December.
The main recommendation is that the Charlotte Area Transit System no longer use the median of Independence for a light-rail line. The institute instead endorsed a possible busway along Independence and proposed building a streetcar line nearby, on Monroe Road.
When the state was widening the road with light rail a possibility, it planned to separate a lane in the middle of the highway with two concrete walls. Thats how a section of Independence closer to uptown was built.
But the new plan calls for only one concrete wall, said Barry Moose, a division engineer with the N.C. DOT.
Moose said the redesign shouldnt be complicated and wont cost the state any more money. But the state needs additional time to decide how to build the road.
Having only one wall will give the state more flexibility in how the center lane is used.
Two walls restricted traffic, Moose said. With the redesign, we can add HOT and HOV lanes. Well have some flexibility.
HOV lanes high-occupancy vehicle lanes are the traditional carpool lanes.
HOT lanes high-occupancy toll lanes allow any vehicle to use them as long as the driver is paying a toll. The toll will usually vary depending on the time of day. At rush hour, the price to use the HOT lane usually increases.
The DOT is planning to convert the carpool lanes on Interstate 77 in north Mecklenburg to HOT lanes.
The Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization voted May 16 to approve the delay.
Moose said the project which is about 1.5 miles will likely be finished in two years. The DOT eventually plans to transform Independence into an expressway all the way to Interstate 485, but it has no timetable as to when that would be finished.
The reworking of Independence has been difficult for surrounding neighborhoods. Partly because of decreased access from the highway, several businesses have closed between uptown and Albemarle Road.
The area recently saw a new 148,500-square-foot Wal-Mart open on the site of the old Amity Gardens shopping center, off Independence Boulevard near Albemarle Road.