Work on outerbelt’s last 5.7 miles gains ground

Completion of I-485 loop expected to transform region, save money and energy

10/28/2012 12:00 AM

10/25/2012 11:01 AM

Dump trucks pour out massive mounds of dirt and bulldozers zoom along the unfinished road. They’ve got a lot of ground to cover: A 5.7-mile path has been cleared to complete the Interstate 485 loop, and construction to finish it is in progress.

Construction began in August 2011, and Gary Eudy, the project manager with the state transportation department, said the last stretch of the loop should be finished by December 2014.

The section is between the Northlake Mall area and the Mallard Creek community, and the eight-lane road will link Interstate 77 to Interstate 85.

More than a year into the $139.5 million project, crews are blowing up rocks in the ground and shifting dirt to even the future stretch of highway. The N.C. Department of Transportation bought and leveled about 30 homes to clear the highway’s path, said Jen Thompson, a department spokeswoman.

“We’re cutting down hills and filling in valleys,” Eudy said. “We’re hauling dirt from high places and dumping it into low places.”

He said the road will get 13 inches of concrete poured over it before paving begins.

Eudy said he looks forward to the project’s completion because it will transform more than just the Mallard Creek area.

“It’s going to be one of the biggest events in Charlotte-Mecklenburg history,” he said. “When we have the ribbon-cutting, the whole region is going to benefit from this.”

Eudy said closing the loop will bring safety and savings in time and fuel for drivers. He said not having the loop closed has cost taxpayers at least $20,000 per day, which he said was a conservative estimate.

But there’s more to be done than just pave the last section of I-485. Local roads are being realigned to mesh with the new highway segment. Odell School, Prosperity Church, Johnston-Oehler, Ridge, Eastfield and Alexanderana roads are all being restructured.

Three bridges over the interstate are being built, as are ramps, roundabouts and interchanges.

Eudy said he expects the bridge for Browne Road to be open by Christmas.

“We’re going to be opening a lot more roads than closing them,” he said. “After Browne Road is opened up, people should be seeing traffic flow pick up in this area after New Year’s.”

Two other related projects are underway:

One interchange, a diverging diamond, will be the first of its kind in North Carolina to connect I-485 with I-85. To use it, people will drive “the wrong way” for a short time.

“I tell people it looks confusing on paper, but it’s almost foolproof,” Eudy said. “Once they’re in there, they really can’t make a mistake.”

Construction for the interchange will cost about $92.2 million. The N.C. Department of Transportation has said that the cutting-edge interchange, in addition to other models along the new stretch of I-485, will save more than $50 million than if the state built traditional ones.

Beyond the major interchange, crews are also working to widen seven miles of I-85 from four to eight lanes. The $125.2 million construction project is in anticipation of higher volumes of traffic coming from the new section of I-485.

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