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A Look At I-485's Past, Future Development

If you're trying to get a head start on the Labor Day weekend, you know by now that just getting home - or getting out of town - can be a challenge. I-485 isn't much fun at rush hour, especially on the southern end. Transportation planners envsioned the busiest stretch from I-485 near Pineville to support 43,000 vehicles a day by the year 2000. It turned out to be 90,000-plus. And by 2008, the number soared to 119,000. It's been 22 years since construction began on that first section of the 67-mile outerbelt. Today, just five miles are left to finish the job. WFAE's Mark Rumsey speaks to Bill Coxe about the design and use of I-485. Coxe was a transportation planner for Mecklenburg County when the road was being designed. Today, he's Huntersville's transportation planner. He tells Mark that I-485 planners did not envision the road as it is today. Mark Rumsey - How close to the original vision for an urban outer loop for Charlotte has 485 shaped up to be? Bill Coxe - I think if you go back to the 1970s, when it was originally envisioned, it was envisioned as a bypass. What it has turned out to be is a locational tool for development at the interchanges. It still serves some bypass functions, but primary what it's done is it's opened up much more land for development in the different areas than was anticipated by the planning in the late 70s. So, Ballantyne wasn't envisioned by anybody. Piper Glen - everything that's occurred in northern Union County and down into upper South Carolina in the area known as Indian Land - none of that was envisioned. The outer loop helped to facilitate that. I won't say it was the cause of it. Development patterns coming out of Charlotte to the south are very strong historically. But what the outer loop did was accelerate that and facilitate that. So, the projected volumes for that 20-year future in many cases are probably 25 percent of what actually happened when you got to that 20-year future. Mark: What do transportation planners expect from 485 in the next 10 to 20 years? Bill: I anticipate that it serves as a lens to focused development on the interchanges that will continue to occur over time, as well as the roadways leading out from the outer loop into the adjacent areas in the metropolitan region. So, it will continue to spin off development around it's boundary, which will cause it to have more traffic. The old concept of carpooling. . . is a wonderful concept, and we're actually going to see that, I believe, as we implement additional capacity on some of our freeway network. We are proposing that capacity be added as what are called HOT Lanes (High Occupancy/Toll Lanes). You can use that lane if (there) are two or more occupants in a vehicle, you can use it for free. But if you want to get in that lane as a single-occupant automobile, you're going to pay. And the more congested things are, the more you're going to pay. Mark: Does an outerbelt highway like I-485 have a lifespan? Bill: The anticipated development of the freeway was based on a 20-year forecast of traffic. So, you can say the capacity on it has a lifespan. Clearly, you can and you do put more capacity than that into that future. The physical structure of the pavement, of the bridges, probably has a lifespan from 30 to 50 years with good maintenance, at which point you're looking at a complete reconstruction of the system. Mark: Something to look forward to. Bill: Fortunately, I'll be retired.