Cover Story: Charlotte area construction

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Charlotte area is in the midst of a construction growth spurt.  It could be the most road, rail and bridge projects ever undertaken at one time in the Charlotte area.

And on Thursday, North Carolina's Transportation Secretary Gene Conti was in town to talk about all the projects.

A green light for the Monroe Toll Road.

"We do have some major news for the Charlotte area. We are moving forward with the Monroe project," said Conti.

The proposed bypass paralleling US 74, skirting Monroe and running 20 miles from I-485 in the west to near Marshville in the east finally has a green light.

It will be the Charlotte area's first toll road.  And will take traffic off a congestion-plagued highway to the beach.

The state is moving ahead despite an appeal by environmentalists.  Groups have appealed to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to try to stop the road.

"There's no injunction to stop us from moving forward. We got a very very strong opinion from the federal judge saying we had followed all the environmental rules," Conti said.

On Tuesday, the Turnpike Authority got approval to begin selling bonds that'll finance construction.

The state will begin acquiring land for the road over the next six months.  Construction will start later next year.

On the subject of construction Conti talked about the I-85 widening project in Concord.  Last week several tractor-trailers wreck and led to a massive pileup that halted traffic on the freeway for five hours.

Secretary Conti said the state will look into lowering the speed limit in that work zone.

It's still 65 mph during the day, although the state has lowered it to 55 at night while crews are working.  Drivers complained to WBTV News wondering why it's not 55 mph during the daylight hours as well.

Responded Conti:  "We would look at whether lowering the speed limit would have made a difference.. we will take that up."

Up in the northeast of Charlotte - the missing piece of I-485.  Gene Conti says the state DOT expects to get construction permits next week from the Army Corps of Engineers so work can begin in earnest.

If everything goes well the final six miles of the outerbelt should be completed in three years.

Later this month the Board of Transportation, Conti said, will approve a plan for the state to help fund the LYNX light rail line to University City.  It would parallel North Tryon Street and run to UNC Charlotte.

And the Transportation Secretary said the state is seriously looking into converting I-77's HOV lanes into toll lanes - charging a toll to use the HOV as a way of speeding up improvements on I-77.

"We need to look at other revenue sources," said Conti.  "A toll is really the purest form of the user fee."

The state has also received $600 million to bring high-speed rail service between Charlotte and Raleigh.

On the long-awaited I-85 Yadkin River bridge project, cars should be able to use the bridge mid-summer next year.

And the state is anticipating a decision this winter from the federal government on building the Garden Parkway, the toll road around Gastonia.

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