Planning group to consider new lane on I-485

Lanes on both sides of I-485, as seen from Johnston Road, go unused on Wednesday February 11, 2015.
Lanes on both sides of I-485, as seen from Johnston Road, go unused on Wednesday February 11, 2015. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte’s regional transportation planning organization will discuss Wednesday night the possibility of creating a carpool lane on Interstate 485 in south Charlotte.

The N.C. Department of Transportation opened a new lane on I-485 in December that greatly improved traffic flow.

But the outerbelt can still become clogged at rush hour. As cars move slowly from the South Boulevard exit to Rea Road, they drive alongside enough asphalt on the inner shoulder to create a new lane.

The state’s plan has been to convert that shoulder into an express toll lane, which would open in 2019 or 2020.

The meeting of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization begins at 5 p.m. in Room 267 of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. The public can make comments about the outerbelt — or any other topic — at the start of the meeting.

The DOT has said that opening a carpool lane would still allow the state to open an express toll lane at the end of the decade. State law prohibits the DOT from converting free, general-purpose lanes into toll lanes, and federal regulations also make it difficult.

Creating a carpool lane could cost as much as $1 million, the DOT has said. The money would primarily be spent on new signs identifying the lane and on paint to mark the lanes.

There are other questions about the project.

If it decides to move forward with the carpool lane, it’s unclear if the lane would end at Johnston Road or would continue to Rea Road. The highway is narrower from Johnston Road to Rea Road, but there is still enough room for a fourth lane.

The state has said it estimates the carpool lane would only save motorists six seconds on their rush-hour commute. But it’s possible that drivers in the carpool lane would save significant time, if they are allowed to bypass congestion at the South Boulevard, N.C. 51, and Johnston Road exits.

Some Charlotte City Council members, including David Howard and Vi Lyles, have said they support further research on creating the carpool lane early.

Harrison: 704-358-5160