The city of Charlotte will study ways to improve the Interstate 277 loop, including building a cap over three blocks of the John Belk Freeway south of uptown.
A cap would help blend uptown and South End and open up more land for development, officials say. Center City Partners first proposed placing a cap over the freeway several years ago, but the impact of the recession had shelved the proposal.
City transportation officials told City Council on Monday that a cap between Church Street and the Lynx Blue Line would cost $330 million and create open space or new parks above the freeway.
Talk of a I-277 cap was part of an overall discussion Monday night about the future of the citys inner loop. A city transportation official told City Council Monday that the I-277 loop was designed 50 years ago and that much of it is obsolete.
Portions of the loop are really outdated and need assistance, said Vivian Coleman of the Charlotte Department of Transportation. It doesnt function with todays traffic counts.
Some of the proposed changes include relieving congestion, especially at the two interchanges with Interstate 77.
But Coleman said much of the study will focus on making I-277 less of a rural-style expressway with cloverleaf interchanges. The city wants to remake the exits into more urban-style interchanges, with shorter on and off ramps that encourage vehicles to drive slower.
The city and the N.C. Department of Transportation have already done some of that work. When building the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the city and state reconfigured the I-277 and South Boulevard interchange by creating on and off ramps that took up a smaller footprint.
The city is trying to sell several new pieces of land that were created when that interchange was remade.
Other parts of I-277 that will be studied include:
• Interchange of John Belk Freeway and I-77. Coleman said the interchange is very congested during rush hour and has the highest crash rate on I-277. She said the interchange needs a complete reconfiguration.
• I-77 exits between John Belk and Brookshire freeways. Coleman said the exits could be redesigned from cloverleafs to smaller interchanges to create new land for development.
• Interchange of Brookshire Freeway and I-77. Coleman said the city must wait for the states plans to add a toll lane on I-77 before moving forward.
City officials said they have already done some small projects to improve I-277 overpasses.
For instance, the city made some improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians at the South Tryon Street bridge, the South Boulevard bridge and the West Trade Street underpass. The city said there are 31 more underpasses or overpasses along I-277 that need similar improvements.
Mayor Anthony Foxx said CDOT needs to make sure that any changes benefit the community.
When I-277 and other urban interstates were built decades ago, there was little regard for the people who were displaced.
The response from the community can be tepid, Foxx said. When we talk about 277 there is a lot of pain associated with that.
Coleman said the I-277 cap might not score well because of its cost. In addition, the project doesnt improve the transportation network.
Democrat David Howard, who chairs the councils transportation committee, asked that the I-277 cap be discussed by the citys economic development committee.