Era of auto inspection sticker is ending

The end of the auto inspection sticker is coming.

The state was supposed to cease issuing the red and blue windshield stickers Oct. 1, but problems installing new computers and software across the state have pushed back a new electronic system to November.

If all goes according to plan, you will no longer get an inspection sticker for your windshield. Instead, your safety and emissions inspections will be logged into the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles' computer and linked to your car registration.

This will bring two main changes.

The first is that your inspection will be due on the same date as your registration.

The second is that if you haven't had your safety and emissions inspected, you can't register your car.

Under the current system, you could let your inspections lapse and still have your registration. The state expects 97 percent of all drivers to be compliant, up from an estimated 92 percent today.

The switchover is expected to cost the state just under $12 million.

In rural counties, safety inspection stations are receiving new computers to record results. In urban counties such as Mecklenburg, where emissions inspections are also conducted, stations already have computers and are receiving only new software. Counties surrounding Charlotte already require emissions inspections.

Bonnie Jones is the co-owner of South End Inspections. She wonders whether the state will have to delay the rollout until the start of 2009 but is pleased with the change.

“It will help our business,” she said. “You now have to get your inspection done.”

More frequent train service?

To handle higher than expected ridership, CATS is considering increasing the frequency of Lynx trains during rush hour, from every 7.5 minutes to every 6 minutes.

The move wouldn't increase the number of seats available to commuters because CATS is already using all available train cars at peak times. But it would offer faster service, and could keep station platforms from becoming too crowded.

At rush hour, CATS has eight trains an hour. If it splits some two-car trains, it could have 10 trains an hour.

“We have to do testing,” said CATS chief Keith Parker.

One concern is that running two additional trains each hour would result in more traffic tie-ups for motorists crossing the rail line. And adding more trains would also increase operating expenses because more drivers would be needed.

During rush hour, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit operates trains about every five minutes. In Atlanta, rush-hour trains arrive every 10 minutes.

Parker also has put a price tag on upgrading the Lynx Blue Line to handle more riders: $50 million.

Most of that money would pay for additional train cars, as well as lengthen station platforms so they could accommodate three-car trains. When the Lynx was being designed, CATS originally planned for longer platforms but shrunk them to save money.

When that decision was made, I'm not sure there was anyone in Charlotte – not even former CATS chief executive Ron Tober – who thought CATS would be talking so soon about needing longer platforms and longer trains.

New I-74 segment opens

Getting to the beach is now easier.

The N.C. Department of Transportation held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday in Lumberton to open a 13-mile segment of what will become the new Interstate 74.

The new $100 million highway runs from N.C. 710 in Pembroke to N.C. 41 in Lumberton. Charlotte drivers heading to Wilmington will still crawl along U.S. 74 but now have four stretches of limited-access highway – around Rockingham, Laurinburg, Lumberton and Whiteville.

When finished, I-74 will run from Mount Airy near the Virginia border and through Winston-Salem and Greensboro. It will then turn south through Asheboro and follow U.S. 74 to Wilmington. It will then turn to the southwest and end at Myrtle Beach.

The state will now place signs on the new route designating it as I-74.

Much work left on outerbelt

Virginia Beach-based Skanska, the contractor building I-485 from N.C. 16 to N.C. 115, said last week it still plans to open the outerbelt segment by the end of October, barring significant rainfall.

After taking a tour of the road this week, I'll be impressed if it's open in a little over a month.

There's still a lot to do.

Concrete must still be poured on the shoulders and some ramps. The road needs to be striped, and some guardrails must still be installed. At the W.T. Harris Boulevard exit, the concrete mixing plant must be dismantled and an exit ramp built in its place.

And there is still coordination needed with N.C. DOT, which must install traffic signals at some exits.

Though it's a long checklist, Joe Raynor of Skanska said it's possible – with crews working seven days a week.

Skanska was supposed to be finished with the job in spring 2007 and blames the DOT for not getting the site ready for construction.