Lanes would be added to current widening project
Drivers in western Union County may soon see toll lanes on Interstate 485 as state leaders try to find ways to defeat congestion between Interstate 77 and Providence Road.
The N.C. Department of Transportation is likely to add a high-occupancy toll lane, or HOT lane, in both directions of I-485 between I-77 and U.S. 521/Johnston Road, Barry Moose, NCDOT Division 10 engineer, said. Engineers and local officials want to install the toll lanes in addition to widening already planned between I-77 and Johnston.
“The congestion is at a point where it’s needed now,” Moose said. “The question is how would we fund it?”
Currently, 100,000 to 124,000 vehicles use the interstate daily. State planners expect those numbers to double by 2030.
The state already plans to spend nearly $59 million to widen the interstate between I-77 and Johnston. In that plan, crews would start, likely this year, adding a third lane in both directions between I-77 and Johnston, with a fourth “auxiliary lane” on the inside loop between Johnston and N.C. 51/Pineville-Matthews Road. But completion of the project would only improve the segment of highway to a D grade for the state transportation department, up from its current F, the lowest-possible grade.
By the end of December, NCDOT will complete a financial analysis on the project to see if toll roads would work. Moose told regional transportation representatives Wednesday night that environmental impact studies are currently going on.
If approved, the state plans to add toll-lane work to the current widening project and award a single contract early next year. That way, crews could add all lanes at once and not disrupt traffic at two different times for two projects.
“Even if we put the funding together to come back in five to 10 years to build the extra lane, it’s not good to disrupt the traffic pattern again,” Moose said. “Let’s do that one time and get the lanes built. It would be more expensive to come back
The toll lanes would go in the median, and would likely start as general traffic lanes that anyone can use, Moose said. It could be a year or more before those lanes transition into toll lanes, where people would have to purchase either a HOT sticker or transponder from the N.C. Turnpike Authority to use, Moose said.
People using the toll lanes without a sticker or transponder would be photographed by equipment set up along the highway, and the information would be forwarded to the state transportation department. The state will send bills to those drivers, including out-of-state cars – for using the toll lane.
NCDOT District 10, which covers Union and Mecklenburg counties, will get a portion of an additional $700 million the state is setting aside for road construction and maintenance. That money could help fund additional widening of I-485 between Johnston and Providence on top of possible toll lanes.
But, for now, the state has not set any firm date for extending general or toll lanes from Johnston to Providence, Moose said. Officials are discussing the idea, but Moose doesn’t want an extension to Providence to slow down the initial project between I-77 and Johnston.
“If that would delay this project, I would probably say let’s do that as a (second phase) and get Johnston to I-77 done,” Moose said. “Because we really need to get those improvements on the ground because it’s very congested, and the public needs some relief out there.”
The plan is similar to toll lanes the state is considering installing on I-77 through north Mecklenburg County. Traffic routinely slows to a crawl on the interstate during peak rush hours through the Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson area before moving into Iredell County. State leaders and local officials have discussed adding four toll lanes – two in each direction – on I-77, possibly all the way to Exit 36 in Mooresville. There already are high-occupancy lanes on a portion of I-77, which would be turned into toll lanes.
“We’ve got a long road to hoe,” Moose said. “We just started with this project.”