State looks for solutions to fund road projects
Local transportation planners have one more option to examine, as they try to fund Independence Boulevard’s widening. During the Monday, March 7 Charlotte City Council meeting, N.C. Transportation Secretary Gene Conti suggested adding a high toll lane to the project, in order to generate revenue.
Construction is supposed to start this year on one segment of the project, which would widen Independence from Albemarle Road to Conference Drive. That includes replacing the intersections with interchanges at Sharon Amity, Idlewild and Conference. That segment alone will cost $152 million, money which has already been allocated from the state’s transportation fund. It’s just part of a larger plan to turn the final 6 miles of Independence between uptown Charlotte and Union County into an expressway.
In 2009, the Charlotte Department of Transportation did a study, analyzing all the roads in the area which could potentially be considered for tolling. Among those were Interstate-485 South between U.S. 521 and Interstate-77, as well as Hwy 74 East. In the document, CDOT says Hwy 74 is a good option to start.
“This corridor shows great demand for managed (toll) lanes, with acceptable travel time savings even in the short term,” the document reads. “Based on the revenue maximization pricing strategy, forecasted annual revenues for (the) lanes would be about three times greater than the projected annual operation and maintenance costs in 2013.”
With the state looking at a budget shortfall, transportation officials are searching for other options, in order to fund the full 6 miles. The toll roads would replace the median of Independence. Originally the city had planned for light rail to take up that space, but with funding for additional light rail several decades away, local transportation officials are suggesting it be used for buses and a potential toll.
“The secretary was brainstorming, talking about options,” NCDOT Communications Director Greer Beaty said. “Right now, we’re just exploring all the available options for projects.”
The project has to start this year, because the $152 million comes from Garvey bonds, which are issued based on revenue states expect from the federal government in the future. After 2012, those bonds go away, as dollars coming from the NCDOT must equal dollars coming in. If the state decides to go the toll route however, the question also remains as to where the money would come from. In that 2009 report, the full network of toll roads, totaling over six projects, would cost over $3 billion. The option comes at a time when local transportation officials will meet Wednesday, March 16 to go over the region’s long range transportation plan and how to fund projects, as well as which ones will be funded.
“I’m certainly more than willing to study this and see where the numbers fall,” Charlotte city councilman Andy Dulin said. “(DOT) want to look at more efficient ways of doing things.”