I-485 widening contractor picked

The widening of Interstate 485 in south Charlotte got a little closer this week, and a good bit cheaper. But for now the project doesn’t include toll lanes discussed earlier this year for the overburdened roadway.
Lane Construction Corp. will oversee the widening, which will take I-485 from four lanes to six in a 9-mile stretch between Interstate 77 and Rea Road. The project also includes the Johnston Road flyover, which will distribute traffic differently onto the inner loop of I-485, and should include the North Community House bridge over the highway, though that wasn’t discussed in a news release announcing the contract on Tuesday, Sept. 18. The project comes at a time when drivers often see stop-and-go traffic in the mornings and evenings between I-77 and Providence Road in south Charlotte. It’s one of the most congested highways in the state, with more than 121,000 vehicles a day moving through the stretch. And that’s expected to double by 2030.
The N.C. Department of Transportation gives a grade of F – the worst possible score and something leaders equated to “failure” – to the portion of roadway roughly from I-77 to Johnston. Expanding the interstate to six lanes, along with a seventh “auxiliary lane” in the inner loop for a few miles, will only increase that grade to a D, said a state transportation official at a September 2011 meeting in Ballantyne.
With the widening planned to help congestion somewhat, state transportation leaders have discussed the idea of adding an additional toll lane in both directions in the median of the highway through the stretch. And while the toll lanes aren’t part of this project, crews are expected to construct the new general lanes with extra pavement infrastructure so it will be easier in the future to add toll lanes without causing as many delays or having to tear up extra pavement, also making the project cheaper. Design work on the project can start by Oct. 1. Construction would start in May or June of 2013 with the goal of finishing by December 2014 – nearly a year earlier than the other two bidding finalists proposed. Lane Construction’s bid, at $83.3 million, was about $14 million less than what the state had estimated for the project, according to a news release.
Part of the project should include the North Community House bridge, which would span I-485 and connect the road to Johnston on the north side. Charlotte officials planned to eventually build the bridge, but Bissell Companies proposed to pay $8.5 million for the project if it meant completing it much quicker. The company will be paid back over time through a portion of area tax revenues.
With the bridge in place, drivers will be able to bypass the congestion heading north on Johnston around the I-485 intersection. But Bissell Companies officials hadn’t been told as of earlier this summer if the I-485 construction crew will build the bridge at the start of widening the highway, or after the highway is widened in late 2014.

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