Roadway Widening Project Taking Decades To Complete
Independence Boulevard Expansion - Almost A Half Of Century In The Making
CHARLOTTE, N.C. —
Independence Boulevard has been called a driver's nightmare.
"It's wild. It gets backed up all the time," said motorist William Taylor.
With an average of 97,000 cars each day, Independence carries more traffic than many of North Carolina's busiest interstates. Drivers are ready for some relief.
"It seems to be very congested. It needs to be widened, I feel like, a couple extra lanes," said motorist Webster Sanford
Plans are in place to widen Independence Boulevard, but as Eyewitness News discovered during a two-month investigation, those plans have been sitting on a shelf since 1960.
The forty-four year old plan, now beginning to yellow, calls for the state to turn Independence into a freeway from Uptown all the way out to Matthews.
Bill Finger, who has worked with the Charlotte Department of Transportation since the 70s, says that work should have been finished years ago.
"I think that the people who first were planning for Independence back in the 1960s, and were planning for an expressway that's a little different than what we've ended up with, were expecting it to be finished by 1980." said Charlotte DOT Bill Finger.
Money to widen Independence didn't actually make it into the state's road building budget until 1975.
You can see for yourself that $60 million was allocated to widen seven miles of Independence, from the Brookshire out to the proposed outerbelt, which was then planned for closer to Idlewild Road.
Still, 30 years later, only three miles of the proposed seven-mile freeway have been built.
The state department of transportation says that buying the extra land needed to widen Independence has actually been more expensive than building the freeway.
Rapid inflation and the energy crisis of the late 70s meant that the DOT didn't have enough money to go around. With costs soaring for Independence, the state board of transportation decided that building the southern leg of I-485 in Pineville and south Charlotte should have priority over widening Independence.
But while I-485 spurred rapid residential and retail development in south Charlotte, UNC Charlotte Transportation Professor Edd Hauser says an Independence Freeway would have stimulated growth for the overall Charlotte economy.
"I think Charlotte would have been an even larger commercial center with warehousing and distribution here than it is at present."
Economics and state budgets aside, Finger knows that for drivers tired of being stuck in traffic every day, the issue is simple.
"Independence has been moving over several projects, about a mile every eight years," he said.
With the state DOT continuing to fall behind on both road construction and road maintenance, no one can predict when the Independence widening will be complete.
The next phase of widening on Independence Boulevard won't start until at least December of 2009. That project will include freeway-style interchanges at Sharon Amity Road and Idlewild Roads.
Beyond Idlewild, there is no timetable for widening, but the state DOT and the Charlotte area transit system have begun working together on plans to improve traffic in that area.