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I-485: On The Way To Becoming A Loop, At Last

I 485.

I-485 under construction. Construction crews are well on the way to completing one of the most long-awaited road projects in the Charlotte-region. By the end of 2014, I-485 will finally offer drivers a continuous loop around Mecklenburg County. Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez toured the project Thursday and praised the state's creative use of funds and road design to get the loop finished. Back when the first shovel turned on I-485 - this was 1988 - state transportation officials figured the entire 67-mile loop around Mecklenburg County would be finished in 20 years. But 2008 came along and the freeway was still a horseshoe rather than a complete loop. State transportation officials at the time said it would be another 10 years before they could round up the money to finish it. "You know when Governor Perdue took office, these projects were schedule to begin in 2015," notes Gene Conti, whom Perdue appointed Secretary of the Department of Transportation. "They will now be finished - all of them - in 2014." The projects he's referring to are: 1. The final six-mile stretch of I-485 between I-77 and I-85; 2. A new interchange where I-85 meets I-485; 3. The widening of I-85 through Concord. (That's a perpetually congested spot - especially during NASCAR season.) So how did the state suddenly come up with the $350 million to do those projects in the middle of a recession? Division engineer Barry Moose says the timing was actually lucky because construction firms were desperate for work. "We were seeing double digit inflation in construction several years prior to these projects, but when we brought these to contract the construction industry as a whole was in a very competitive nature so we were able to reap those benefits," says Moose. The state also worked out a deal to borrow money based on future federal road funds it expects to receive. Moose says I-485 will - at long last - be a continuous beltway around Mecklenburg County by December 2014. But that won't be the end of work on I-485. Next spring, Moose says widening will begin on southern edge near Pineville, where commuters have come to expect long delays. Moose says that stretch will get two additional lanes in each direction with one reserved for carpoolers and solo-commuters willing to pay a toll. The extra money will help cover construction. More information: http://www.ncdot.gov/projects/charlotteouterloop/