Howard Treadway moved into his Matthews house more than 30 years ago. He remembers when crews broke ground for Interstate 485 about a mile away.
"It helps at times -- but (some)times you don't even want to be on that thing," he said of the interstate.
He said he never thought the highway would get so busy, but neither did the people who planned it.
Bill Coxe, who was Mecklenburg County’s transportation planner, worked with the team that tried to predict how many people would drive 485. So Eyewitness News asked him to show the numbers.
He said planners made projections for 485's southern leg first in the ‘70s, and they were way off. They thought 23,000 vehicles would fill the stretch every day, but instead more than 100,000 do.
“Are you surprised they were that far off?" asked reporter Jason Stoogenke.
“Yes," Coxe said.
But Coxe said that by the mid ‘80s, planners were already using better technology, including computers, so when they predicted how many vehicles would use the eastern leg of 485, they came much closer to getting it right.
"The accuracy got a lot better on the east,” he said.
They expected 58,000 vehicles around Rocky River Road, and the actual number comes to about 56,000.
Eyewitness News wanted to know if planners still predict traffic the same way or if they have even better tools.
Charlotte's Department of Transportation handles that for the area's major roads, and Norm Steinman is one of CDOT's top planners.
"The technology enables people now to manipulate many, many, many more numbers than before -- much faster," he said.
He said CDOT’s computer programs can pump out predictions in two to three days and focus on specific roads or even bus routes.
Plus, Steinman said the programs don't just look at Charlotte by itself. He said they take into account 10 counties, Mecklenburg, York, Lancaster, Cabarrus, Union, Stanly, Gaston, Lincoln, Iredell and Rowan, figuring out how drivers anywhere in the region impact Charlotte roads.
"The technology itself is much more powerful. The machines are more powerful. The programs,” Steinman said.
He said the programs are telling him the Charlotte region will double its population in 25 years and put the most stress on Interstate 85 between Interstate 77 and City Boulevard, I-77 between I-85 and south of uptown, Independence Boulevard between uptown and Briar Creek and I-485 between I-77 and Ballantyne.
Local transportation leaders said they're preparing for that by studying what improvements need to be made to certain roads and how practical those would be. They'd also like to squeeze more out of the roads already built so drivers could see more carpool lanes and toll roads.
They said they can’t commit money to any of that yet, which planner Bob Cook said is normal because planning too far ahead creates its own problems.
"If you did an environmental impact study today on a project that might be built 15 years from now, well, you'd be wasting your money," he said.
Cook said the federal government plans four years ahead and the state plans seven years out, but it looks like that's changing to five years. So it'll be some time before you see money for what may be the area's most congested spots.
Eyewitness News found out the state has made a general commitment to widen the southern leg of 485 near Pineville by 2015 -- a commitment which local leaders understand will probably change closer to that date.