Cover Story: Perdue promises delivered?

CONCORD, NC (WBTV) - Finishing Interstate 485 - Governor Perdue was in the area on Monday to check on its progress.  And to get an update on the I-85 widening project in Cabarrus county.

Three years ago, Bev Perdue shortly after being elected governor, predicted the entire Charlotte outerbelt, I-485, would get completed her watch.

It shocked the region especially considering building I-485 began way back in 1988 and it looked like it was never going to get finished.

It certainly could have been her Achilles heel, instead it'll be a promise she can capitalize on.

Here's why it frustrated the region.  In the fall of 2008 the next-to-the last link of the I-485 outerbelt opened up in north Mecklenburg at NC 115 (Old Statesville Rd.) where the road came to a dead end.

The final piece a tiny 6-mile section through the University area which would finish the outerbelt and complete the circle of Charlotte wasn't set to begin construction for seven more years.

Why? No money.

"We will start 485 sometime during this calendar year," Perdue said three years ago, which is how she won over so many friends in February 2009.

Almost immediately, her prediction looked to be in trouble.

But thinking outside the box through a creative financing plan using federal highway loan money, state transportation dollars and asking the projects' contractors to take out a loan (which the state will repay) the project was fast tracked.

And Monday Bev Perdue returned to Charlotte to remind voters of her promise delivered.

"If we had sat around and waited for the old way of doing things to allow us to do these three projects," Perdue said, "I'm not sure we would have started these in 2016 or 2017."

Instead they'll be finished in 2013 and 2014.

The three projects:

  • Finishing the last leg of I-485 (trees are already being cleared for that project)
  • Constructing a state-of-the art interchange at I-485 and I-85 in the University area in northeast Charlotte
  • And much-needed widening of I-85 through Concord, about seven miles from Bruton Smith Boulevard north to NC 73.

At a news conference Monday afternoon inside a construction company's offices Perdue sounded likely themes that will be used in the upcoming gubernatorial election against former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

"Honestly, if you look at what's going on here.. you have to be kinda proud in this kind of economy to see this kind of innovation at work," she said.

The projects are being speeded up through a process called Design, Build, Finance which brought the bids in lower, saving the state $130 million and adding workers to the payroll putting more than 400 people to work.

Was there ever a chance it wouldn't come together?

Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said, "I think we all felt confident that we could get it but it took a lot of work at a lot of good thinking on our part."

The governor said this project didn't have anything to do with an election.  She said it's about good transportation planning for a growing area that needs better transportation.

The three projects - finishing I-485, constructing the massive interchange, and widening I-85, DOT officials say, is the most construction in one area at one time in the NCDOT division that includes Charlotte.

I-85 widening in Cabarrus county should be complete in November 2013.  And I-485 should be finished in December 2014.

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