A transportation committee voted unanimously Thursday against creating a carpool lane on Interstate 485 in south Charlotte, a decision that likely ends discussion about using the extra asphalt on the highway.
The debate focused on an extra-wide shoulder on I-485 between Interstate 77 and Johnston Road. The N.C. Department of Transportation widened the highway in December, and the project greatly improved traffic flow.
But the highway’s outer loop still gets congested during the afternoon rush hour.
To improve traffic flow, one possibility was to create a temporary carpool lane in the wide shoulder.
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But the committee decided the benefits wouldn’t be worth the cost of creating the carpool lane, which could be $1 million.
“There would be minimal benefit to the motoring public,” said Danny Pleasant of the city of Charlotte, who is the chair of the Technical Coordinating Committee, which made the recommendation.
The committee’s vote will be sent to the full committee of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, which will likely endorse the vote later this month.
The Technical Coordinating Committee is an advisory panel of transportation planners, primarily from Charlotte and surrounding towns.
Some Charlotte City Council members had expressed interest in the idea of creating a carpool lane earlier this year. Gov. Pat McCrory had directed the DOT to research the best ways of using the lane.
The state’s plan for I-485 is to create a new express toll lane from I-77 to U.S. 74. That lane will be reserved for people in carpools and people willing to pay a toll.
The extra-wide shoulder that exists today will be converted to a toll lane by the end of the decade.
If the state had created a carpool lane on I-485 this year, it could have still converted the lane into a toll lane. If the DOT had made it a general-purpose lane for all cars, state and federal regulations would have made it difficult to do that.
Pleasant said the DOT’s traffic analysis showed there would be little benefit from creating a carpool lane. The state had said it could save motorists about 6 seconds. That number is an average using all cars at rush hour, including cars in the regular lanes.
For drivers in the carpool lane, though, it could have produced significant time savings of several minutes.
The biggest traffic choke point today is at Rea Road, where three lanes merge into two lanes. The carpool lane couldn’t have gone past Rea Road.
“You won’t resolve that,” said Pleasant.
Pleasant said he didn’t think that many people would have used the carpool lane. He said it would have been difficult for motorists to access it from I-77 because they would have had to cross several lanes of outerbelt traffic.
“You have the potential for more traffic,” he said.
Accessing the lane will still be a problem when the state opens the express toll lane at the end of the decade. Motorists from I-77 will still have to cross several lanes of traffic.
Last month, the DOT said it could speed up the $200 million express lane project by six months. That project is scheduled to start in 2017, but could begin in May 2016.
The DOT will add a new lane from Rea Road to U.S. 74. It will also re-stripe the existing empty lane and add electronic tolling equipment on the highway.
The entire project will likely be finished in 2019 or 2020.
That express lane project is part of a larger state plan to have a network of toll lanes throughout the Charlotte area. Highways being considered for express toll lanes are I-77 north and south of uptown; I-485; and U.S. 74.
The DOT said Thursday that the last section of I-485 in northeast Charlotte is scheduled to open in the spring.