Charlotte is growing. Over the past 25 years, the Charlotte area population has increased by 100 percent (from 688,000 to 1.4 million) and anticipates adding more than 500,000 residents over the next 20 years. The City of Charlotte alone attracts 43 people each day. One result of this growth is increased traffic congestion.
In order to address this issue, the North Carolina Turnpike Authority (NCTA), at the request of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO), is implementing a network of express lanes in the Charlotte region.
I-485 Express Lanes (I-5507)
The I-485 Express Lanes project would add one express lane in each direction along I-485 between I-77 and U.S. 74 (Independence Boulevard), providing travel time reliability and improving traffic flows in this critical transportation corridor. This segment of I-485 carries between 80,000 and 146,000 vehicles per day and regularly becomes congested. The project would also add one general-purpose lane in each direction along I-485 between Rea Road and Providence Road. In coordination with other projects in southeastern Mecklenburg County, this project would serve as part of a larger network of express lanes offering drivers the option of more reliable travel times.
July 25 and 26, 2018 Pre-Construction Open House Materials
I-485 Pre-Construction Public Open House Maps
I-485 Express Lanes Categorical Exclusion Report
U.S. 74 Phase I (U-5526)
The U.S. 74 Phase I project converts the existing bus lanes in the median of U.S. 74 (Independence Boulevard), between I-277 and Wallace Lane, to express lanes. The purpose of this project is to provide travel time reliability along U.S. 74.
U.S. 74 Phase II (U-2509)
The U.S. 74 Phase II project would widen U.S. 74 (Independence Boulevard) to add six general- purpose lanes - three in each direction - between Conference Drive and I-485. Because access along U.S. 74 would be altered and all traffic signals removed, interchanges or grade separated crossings would be constructed at major intersecting roads. One express lane in each direction would be constructed in the median of U.S. 74 as part of the project. The project is also expected to include short roadway connections that would link roads running parallel to U.S. 74 at several locations within the project corridor. In combination with improvements proposed for the U.S. 74 Phase I project, this proposed project would give motorists the option of paying a fee for a reliable trip time on U.S. 74 between I-277 in Charlotte and I-485 in Matthews.
In 2007, the City of Charlotte partnered with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO), and other local and regional agencies to initiate the “Fast Lanes Study”.
The Fast Lanes Study examined existing and planned major highways throughout a 10-county area and identified corridors that could benefit the most from implementing express lanes to help manage congestion during peak travel periods. The initial findings supported additional study of I-485 and U.S. 74 (Independence Boulevard).
After further evaluation, the express lanes projects on I-485 and U.S. 74 were added to the CRTPO’s 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP), which was adopted in April 2014. In June 2015, the NCDOT released the 2016-2025 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), identifying funding for express lanes projects on I-485 (STIP project I-5507) and U.S. 74 (STIP projects U-2509 and U-5526A).
The inclusion of these projects in the MTP and STIP led the North Carolina Turnpike Authority (NCTA) to initiate the implementation of the I-485 and U.S. 74 Express Lanes Network.
The three express lanes projects for the I-485 and U.S. 74 (Independence Boulevard) corridors are in the planning and design phase. Specific milestones are illustrated in the Express Lanes Project Timeline graphic below. Pre-construction public open houses for the I-485 Express Lanes project are scheduled for July 25 and 26, 2018.
The following provides an overview of ongoing activities and next steps:
Details of the I-485 Express Lanes project will be available at the public open houses.
Preliminary information about the U.S. 74 Express Lanes projects (Phase I and II) will also be shared at the public open houses.
Additional public outreach for the U.S. 74 projects is anticipated later in 2018.
I-485 Express Lanes (I-5507)
The required environmental documentation for this project is anticipated to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in Summer 2018. Preliminary design plans have been completed and are available for viewing on the project website.
This project will be constructed through a Design-Build process, meaning engineers and contractors will collaborate to finalize the design plans. The Design-Build process allows flexibility to develop innovative concepts to reduce the overall project cost and shorten the schedule, and can result in slight variations from the preliminary design plans. Based on the current project schedule, final design will begin in Fall 2018 with construction following in Summer 2019.
U.S. 74 Phase I (U-5526)
Environmental studies are complete and final designs are underway, following which construction would begin.
U.S. 74 Phase II (U-2509)
Phase II is undergoing environmental studies in Fall 2018 and design is anticipated in 2019.
More information regarding these projects is available on the project websites:
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: What are express lanes?
A: Express lanes are toll lanes built within an existing highway corridor. They provide additional capacity to accommodate more traffic and offer drivers the option of more reliable travel times. Unlike traditional toll roads, drivers can choose to pay the toll and use the express lanes or continue to drive in the existing non-tolled general purpose lanes.
Q: Why express lanes?
A: In growing urban areas such as Charlotte, additional non-tolled general purpose lanes are shown to only temporarily relieve congestion, especially during rush hour traffic. As growth continues, more drivers fill up the same major commuting routes, which leads to congestion. Variable toll pricing ensures that express lanes are not overwhelmed, so traffic flows freely. When time matters most, express lanes are available to get drivers to their destinations at more reliable, predictable times.
Q: How much will I pay to use the express lanes?
A: The cost of using the express lanes is variable, meaning it will change depending on the demand for the express lanes are at a given time of day. If more drivers want to use the lanes, the toll will be higher. If fewer drivers want to use the lanes, the toll will be lower. Toll rates will be posted on highly visible signage so drivers can decide if the toll is worth paying before entering the lanes. Once in the lanes, drivers pays the toll amount posted when they entered the express lanes for the duration of that trip, even if the toll changes while in the lanes.
Q: How is the price determined?
A: The North Carolina Turnpike Authority (NCTA) sets the toll rates based on how many drivers choose to avoid the congestion in general purpose lanes at a given time. When the number of vehicles in the express lanes is low, the toll is lower in order to encourage use. As the number of vehicles in the express lanes increases, the toll rises to prevent the lanes from being overwhelmed with congestion. The toll rate fluctuates throughout the day to provide travel time reliability for drivers who choose to use them.
Q: Who can use the express lanes for free?
A: At a minimum, transit vehicles and emergency responders will be exempt from the tolls.
Q: How can I access the express lanes?
A: Drivers will be able to access the express lanes using access points and direct connectors. Access points are locations where vehicles can enter and exit the express lanes through openings in the separation between the general purpose lanes and express lanes. They will be designed to allow adequate time for vehicles to safely maneuver in and out of the express lanes. Direct connectors are exit and entrance ramps directly connecting express lanes and cross streets.
Q: Do I have to use express lanes?
A: No, the express lanes are an option for drivers who want a more reliable travel time. Drivers can decide if the time they will save traveling in the express lanes is worth the toll they will pay to use them. Drivers will still have the option to remain in the existing non-tolled general purpose lanes.
Q: How do I pay tolls?
A: The express lanes feature All-Electronic Tolling, or AET, meaning tolls are captured electronically at highway speeds so you never have to stop to pay a toll. If you decide to take advantage of the travel time reliability that express lanes offer, you have several options to pay:
The first option is to sign up for a free NC Quick Pass transponder (www.NCQuickPass.com). The use of NC Quick Pass allows for a discounted rate on North Carolina toll roads and automatically deducts the toll from your prepaid account. NC Quick Pass also sells a transponder that works with toll facilities in Florida (SunPass), Georgia (Peach Pass) and all states that use E-ZPass.
A second option is Bill by Mail, which allows drivers without an NC Quick Pass to use the express lanes. Overhead toll equipment will capture a picture of the vehicle’s license plate, and an invoice will be mailed to the registered owner’s address on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles. After the first mailed invoice, customers can opt-in to receive future invoices by email through the Bill by Email option.
Drivers can also pay in person at a customer service center. (Charlotte and Monroe locations will open soon.)
Q: Who will own, develop, manage and operate the I-485 and U.S. 74 express lanes?
A: The State of North Carolina will own I-485 and U.S. 74 express lanes. NCTA and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) are in charge of the planning, construction and maintenance of the express lanes. Toll accounts are administered by NCTA.
RESOURCES FOR PROPERTY OWNERS
Although the N.C. Department of Transportation works to minimize the number of homes and businesses displaced by a road project, it is inevitable, in many cases, that a certain amount of private property is needed. The following information explains right of way acquisition and answers questions about the process.