Crews could start widening Interstate 485 from Rea Road in southern Mecklenburg County to Matthews and Independence Boulevard as soon as 2017, as the state works to improve a troubled stretch of highway.
N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho, speaking at a meeting in Ballantyne on Saturday, April 12, said the widening could start in three years and as of now would likely be accomplished through the construction of toll lanes. The lanes eventually would extend from Interstate 77 to Independence Boulevard and the planned Monroe Bypass spanning all of southern Mecklenburg, according to recent discussions with state transportation leaders.
I-485 has been “obsolete” since the moment it opened, Rucho said, as “no one even began to understand what the population impact would be in this area. (But widening to Matthews) will help out this area immensely.”
The widening would help commuters accessing I-485 from the Matthews area and traveling the southern loop of the highway – a stretch considered one of the most congested in the state. Two different construction projects currently ongoing will complete the loop in north Mecklenburg while widening a stretch of I-485 in the Ballantyne area with an additional two lanes in each direction. Both projects are scheduled to end by December 2014.
The state has recently battled budget deficits and shortfalls in transportation funding, Rucho said, but “we’re fighting our way back so we can stop congestion and move some people through our part of the county. (A loop like I-485) is critical for any metropolitan, and hallelujah, we’ve finally (nearly completed) it and we can see the end of the tunnel” regarding I-485 construction.
Two lanes in each direction are currently under construction in the Ballantyne area, and one of those lanes in each direction will eventually transition into a toll lane. State transportation leaders would then extend the toll lanes to Matthews starting in 2017 in a project that would likely take two years to complete, Rucho, a Matthews resident, said. The lanes must be tolled and not general traffic lanes as Charlotte-area air quality restrictions prohibit another heavily traveled lane from being built.
Though the idea of paying to travel on a road built with taxpayer dollars caused some angst with people at Saturday’s meeting, Rucho said Mecklenburg drivers should embrace the idea of getting the lanes while they can.
“If we don’t get the asphalt down on the ground” in southern Mecklenburg, the transportation dollars will be spent elsewhere, Rucho said. But he expects to see funding come through for the additional widening quickly, Rucho said Saturday.
“There’s some great progress being made,” he said.
Rucho also expressed confidence that the Monroe Bypass would move forward shortly, despite the much-maligned project bogging down in litigation. Some Union County leaders also have recently spoken out against the bypass – a nearly 20-mile toll road that would stretch from near the interchange of I-485 and Independence Boulevard in Matthews to Marshville, a Union County town to the east of Monroe. Bypass critics have argued with state transportation officials about the need and purpose of the bypass, which will “increase mobility and capacity within” the area, according to the state’s project website.
Rucho also spoke briefly Saturday about I-77, which also will see additional lanes – through tolls – in the near future.
Find more information about area road projects at www.ncdot.gov/proj ects.