Work on I-485 to begin soon

Traffic to increase along N.C. 115

by Will Bryant

HUNTERSVILLE – Commuters traveling from Huntersville to Charlotte are seeing a hefty increase in traffic around Eastfield Road and N.C. 115 as the N.C. Department of Transportation ramps up construction on the final section of Interstate 485.

Construction crews have been busy for weeks working on surrounding intersections along N.C. 115 to accommodate the final section of the interstate.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn’t issued the final permits the state needs to start construction, but they should come soon, Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jen Thompson said.

But soon may not happen soon enough for commuters like John Zacharczyp.

“There is a lot more traffic than there used to be,” Zacharczyp said.

A resident of Huntersville’s Skybrook community, Zacharczyp commutes into Charlotte every workday to his job with the Vanguard Group.

Even though construction hasn’t started yet on the project, he’s seen traffic delays, especially around Eastfield Road. Yet, traffic is nothing new for Zacharczyp. He has been living in the area since 1999 and has seen some major expansion in the past decade.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes since we’ve been here,” Zacharczyp said, “a lot more growth.”

The final 5.7-mile section of that interstate outer loop that will run east from N.C. 115 and, after years of delays, finally link Interstate 77 with Interstate 85.

State officials promise the result will make more traffic congestion worth the wait.

“It will be fantastic,” Thompson said. “When it’s done, it’s going to mean a lot to the people of Mecklenburg County and also people coming down from Iredell County and Cabarrus.”

According to Thompson, I-485 has been a work in progress for the past 20 years.

“This is a very significant project to the area,” Thompson said. “It started in the late 80s, and here we are, 20 years later, still trying to get it completed.”

N.C. Department of Transportation Communications Officer Steve Abbott said the project will be completed late in 2014.

The crucial interstate loop surrounds Charlotte, allowing commuters to get from point A to point B in the suburban parts of the city with ease – except those who live and travel in northwest Mecklenburg.

When looking at aerial views of I-485, the gap missing between Mallard Creek and Eastfield roads stands out.

The soon-to-begin project has been on the Department of Transportation’s plate for some time, Thompson said.

Originally, state officials did not plan to start construction of the final section until 2015, but when she was campaigning, Gov. Beverly Perdue promised to get that final section done. With the state strapped for cash, state leaders developed the system of contractors financing their own projects, with the state promising to pay the money back later with interest. So the final piece of I-485 hit the fast track.

The recession provided some help, by increasing competition for construction jobs and dramatically reducing prices. Highway planners originally estimated the project would cost $540 million. But contractors’ bids came in 10 percent below predictions, and the project will likely cost around $360 million, Thompson said.

Along with completing the I-485 loop through north Mecklenburg, the project also calls for converting the existing I-485/I-85 interchange between Concord and Charlotte to a so-called “turbine interchange, the first of its kind in the state, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation website.

Turbine interchanges require fewer levels of road while retaining directional ramps, and has left-turning ramps around the center of the interchange that creates a spiral pattern.

The department also plans to widen approximately seven miles of I-85 from four to eight lanes, stretching Bruton Smith Boulevard at Concord Mills north to N.C. 73 in Cabarrus County, according to the department’s website.

Public workshop upcoming

A public workshop will be held Tuesday to Thursday, Nov. 1 to 3, to discuss the changes and road improvements coming to the Eastfield Road area because of the I-485 completion.

The meeting will be held each day at 9 a.m. at the eighth floor office of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department at 600 E. Fourth St. For more information, call 704-336-2205.

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