How do you solve the issue of road congestion? - | WBTV Charlotte

How do you solve the issue of road congestion?


Andrew Putnam works for Flowers of Charlotte. We caught up with him as he was about to settle in for a test of patience.

"We are going to Ballantyne Trace Court," said Putnam as he looked over his delivery routes.

It's a 14-mile trip from the warehouse off Clanton Road in Charlotte. It means he gets to battle with a road he calls "the nemesis," Interstate 485 in southern Mecklenburg County.

"You never know when it's going to be backed up," said Putnam.

When we tagged along it was 9:30 in the morning and the outer loop was jammed with brake lights and creeping cars.

"Wow, actually this is really bad," said Putnam. "I'm surprised there's not a lot more road rage on this road."

New lanes are coming soon to the stretch of 485 between Interstate 77 and Rea Road. Most hope it will provide much needed relief.

"It won't solve congestion problems," said Warren Cooksey of NCDOT. "At best the new lanes of 485, which are welcome and we are happy to have, will return 485 to a level of service it had in the past."

You can call it the "Fundamental Law of Road Congestion." It is the title of a study by two Canadian professors who examined U.S. highway traffic. (Click here to read study) They found if you add more lanes you simply add more traffic. The data showed the ratio was a perfect one-to-one.

"I think that is true," said Edd Houser Director of the Center for Transportation Policy Studies at UNC Charlotte. "What that says is if you build a road they (drivers) will come to it."

The researchers say when you expand roads they become filled up with more businesses, more trucks, more everyday drivers who may have sought a different route.

The researchers also say they also found no evidence extending public transit reduces congestion either. They concluded congestion pricing is the "main candidate tool" to curb the back ups.

The publicly unpopular option is planned for Interstate 77 from Lake Norman to the city. The researchers say congestion pricing works because it changes behavior and patterns. Some will seek other routes, other day parts, or other means of travel.

"That is probably the best solution at this point in time," said Hauser.

Kurt Naas with the group "Widen 77" which is opposed to the toll plan isn't buying into the research. He calls it a generic study. He says there has been no analysis done on when 77 would become re congested after adding a general purpose lane.

Naas also points out the congested stretch through Lake Norman has not been widened since it was built 40 years ago.

"At some point, the public has simply outgrown a road and it needs to be improved for all of the public, not just those willing to pay an extra toll," said Naas.

NCDOT says the toll road to be built by a private company is the quickest way to get the road expanded. Officials also say it is not about changing driver behavior, it's about options.

"It works because it allows people a choice to use a lane with a reliable drive time," said Cooksey.

 Back on 485 it took Andrew Putnam 45 minutes to make that 14 mile delivery. He's hoping the "The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion" has an exception.

"I gotta be an optimist on this," said Putnam. "I really hope it makes a difference."

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