Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why Charlotte needs that 'noose' study

As expected, the Charlotte City Council on Monday approved the measure to allow a study of the uptown loop and all its interchanges. As I wrote in Time to neuter that noose around uptown Charlotte? the idea to put a cap onto part of Interstate 277 (leaving the highway there, but creating usable space above it) has been proposed since at least 1997.

During discussions for the Center City 2020 Vision Plan, the idea was broached of converting the section of the loop at the north end of uptown into a boulevard, although the final plan only recommended further study.

I checked with Charlotte Department of Transportation's manager of planning and design, Norm Steinman, about the I-277/I-77 study. He pointed out that the study which might or might not end up making recommendations for a freeway cap or boulevardization is needed for a more essential reason. It's been at least 40 years since the I-277 loop was designed, with its early alignment concepts more than 50 years old. "Obviously," he said in an email, "a lot of growth has happened since then." The NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration essentially have said no more changes can happen to any of the I-277 interchanges without a study.

"For the first time in 50 years we're taking a look at what should be done," Steinman told me.

I have in my possession a copy of the 1960 master highway transportation plan for the city of Charlotte, prepared by Wilbur Smith and Associates. It shows the route for I-77 and for a loop around uptown a lot like what eventually opened in the 1980s. (It also shows the Independence Boulevard Freeway, which remains unfinished. Gee.)

Atop this blog is a not-great-quality cellphone photo of that map. Notice how similar it looks to today's configuration. The study is dated April 1960, so the designs for I-277 must be more than 50 years old. Goodness knows how old the original concept is.

Another highway-street design tidbit: Monday night the council also OK'd a "roadway classification study" for the Brookshire Boulevard and W.T. Harris Boulevard. This is deep in the weeds of transportation policy, but it could be potentially significant. The classification for roadways affects lane widths, speed limits and whether, for instance, they'd have bicycle lanes and sidewalks, which aren't appropriate along a freeway. The study is necessary, the agenda says, because these two roadways today contain a variety of different roadway classifications, and "are being affected by discrete land development and transportation investment decisions."

And, let me add, both are high-volume city corridors that, today, look like highways but cut through neighborhood and commercial areas that maybe would be healthier if they weren't next to freeway-style highways?  But that's just me ....


Anonymous said...


While I agree with you on many transportation issues, this is one I must say I disagree with. A cap over the southern portion would be fine, however turning portions of 277 into a boulevard would be prohibitively expensive, especially on the Brookshire portion of the loop. It would be more than just destroying interchanges and adding traffic signals. Since the Brookshire freeway is raised for most of it's length, turning it into a boulevard would require the current road to be razed, the right-of-way lowered, and the road to be rebuilt again. If the cost of widening 1.6 miles of US74 is $172 million, can you even imagine the cost of a project the size and scope of turning Brookshire north of uptown into a boulevard? I would say at a very minimum it would cost $500 million. That's a lot of money just to make uptown seem more connected with a surrounding neighborhood. Money like that could be used to much greater effect funding other major road/transit projects that could serve a much more worthwhile purpose than connecting NoDa to Uptown. If connectivity is the worry, there are other ways to make that happen without destroying a major piece of Charlotte infrastructure.

Anonymous said...

Why would Brookshire need re-building at-grade, when 11th and 12thyou already exist? Just rip out the expressway between the Church and Davidson Streets, where ramps feed existing 11th and 12th12th Streets.

And the savings would come from a lower cost to demolish Brookshire (older than Belk) then replacing it (ultimately beyond maintenance). Plus, like Caldwell/South, the cheaper demolition could be financed with the sale of blocks between 11tht and 12th Streets

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