DOT says it could advance toll project by 6 months

Traffic on Interstate 485 at rush hour between Johnston Road and Rea Road.
Traffic on Interstate 485 at rush hour between Johnston Road and Rea Road. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

The N.C. Department of Transportation said Wednesday night that it could speed up a $200million project to build an express toll lane on Interstate 485 from Johnston Road to U.S. 74 by six months.

The state’s projection came as it discussed the possibility of opening an unused lane on the outerbelt early, possibly as a carpool lane.

In December, the DOT opened a new lane on Interstate 485 in south Charlotte that has greatly improved traffic flow. But the highway is still congested at rush hour.

The state’s long-term plan for the highway is to have an express toll lane from Interstate 77 to U.S. 74. That project is unlikely to be finished until 2019 or 2020.

In the meantime, there is an unused lane that the state doesn’t plan to use until the end of the decade.

Louis Mitchell, the DOT’s division engineer for the Charlotte area, discussed the options for the unused lane with the Charlotte Regional Transportation Organization. The planning group will make a recommendation as to what to do with the lane in March.

The state said the carpool lane could be open by August.

The state projects that a new carpool lane from I-77 to Johnston Road would only save drivers six seconds at rush hour.

Part of that is because of people having to change lanes when the carpool lane ends. It also would be because of people moving over from I-77 across several lanes to reach the carpool lane.

The latter problem, however, will exist when the state opens a toll lane on the highway at the end of the decade.

A committee will review the possibilities for the lane and make a recommendation to the planning organization in March.

Rob Watson, who spoke at the meeting, urged the state to open the lane for traffic this year. He said other highways nearby drop in size from four lanes to two, including I-77 in South Carolina.

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