What are Express Lanes?
Express lanes are the key to unlocking congestion and improving traffic flow on critical transportation corridors. They offer drivers a choice – pay a toll and ride on the express lanes for more reliable travel times, or continue driving on the general purpose lanes for free.
The power is entirely in the hands of you, the motorist. You can each determine how valuable your time is and decide if the convenience and more reliable travel time is worth the cost of taking the express lanes.
Project Overview and Purpose
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) proposes to widen and add express lanes to Independence Boulevard (U.S. 74) from Conference Drive in Charlotte to I-485 in Matthews. This project length is 6.3 miles.
The Charlotte region is growing. Its urban population has increased 135 percent in the past 25 years alone, making it the 43rd largest urban area in the nation. More people moving to the area mean more cars on the roadway.
The purpose of this project is to improve traffic mobility and provide travel time reliability along the Independence Boulevard corridor. Additionally, it will provide system sustainability and maintain and improve connectivity to, from, and between adjacent communities. In combination with improvements proposed on Independence Boulevard to the west in Charlotte, the proposed project will give motorists the choice of paying a fee for a reliable trip time on U.S. 74 between I-277 in Charlotte and I-485 in Matthews.
Project Need and Proposed Improvements
Need for Project
Independence Boulevard (U.S. 74) is a multilane, median-divided arterial route that serves as the main gateway to Uptown Charlotte from southeast Mecklenburg County and northwest Union County. The corridor currently operates as a four- to six-lane roadway, but is frequently clogged with heavy congestion. The need for the project can be summarized as follows:
- Existing U.S. 74 does not provide adequate mobility, reliable travel time and connectivity for residents, business patrons and commuters in southeastern Charlotte and Matthews.
- Traffic estimates indicate that U.S. 74 will require additional capacity to provide adequate capacity and Level Of Service (LOS) for users by the design year (2040).
- Express lanes are needed to provide a reliable travel time and connect a system of sustainable express lanes planned on U.S. 74 to the northwest, I-485 to the south and the Monroe Bypass/Connector toll road to the southeast.
The adjacent segment of the Independence Boulevard corridor from I-277 in Uptown Charlotte to Albemarle Road (N.C. 27) has previously been upgraded to a facility with interchanges at major intersecting roads.
Project development studies are underway for STIP No. U-5526, a project that will convert the existing and under-construction bus lanes in the median of Independence Boulevard from I-277 to Wallace Lane to express lanes. Buses will continue to use the express lanes.
Independence Boulevard is the primary east-west route in the region. It has been identified as a strategic transportation corridor. Improving this segment of U.S. 74 is part of an ongoing effort to enhance transportation, economic development and environmental stewardship in our state.
North Carolina is growing but transportation revenues are not keeping pace. This presents a special set of challenges for our state. NCDOT is seeking innovative ways to improve our existing roadway network, grow the state’s economy and enhance the quality of life. The use of express lanes is one tool for achieving those goals.
Independence Boulevard will be widened to provide six general traffic lanes (three in each direction) from Conference Drive to I-485. Because access along U.S. 74 would be altered and all traffic signals removed, interchanges or grade separated crossings will be constructed at major intersecting roads. The project is also expected to include short roadway connections that will link roads that run parallel to Independence Boulevard at several locations within the project corridor. One or two express lanes will be constructed in the median of Independence Boulevard in each direction as part of the project.
News and Updates
The project is in the preliminary stages of development. Over the past several months, NCDOT has worked closely with local government agencies in Charlotte and Matthews to discuss local transportation needs along the Independence Boulevard corridor in order to define the need, purpose and scope of the project. In the coming weeks, NCDOT will meet with local, state, and federal government agencies to further discuss the project, refine the project scope and identify potential environmental impacts.
Environmental and Preliminary Design Studies
After the initial agency coordination described above is complete, NCDOT will begin the following activities:
- Detailed field studies of the project area to identify potential impacts to human and natural environments
- Preparation of preliminary design plans for the proposed improvements to Independence Boulevard
- After preliminary design and environmental studies are complete, a preferred alternative will be selected, based upon public review and comment
In March 2015, NCDOT held two initial public meetings for this project and for the neighboring project on Independence Boulevard to the northwest in Charlotte (from I-277 to Wallace Lane):
- Currently, no recent news releases.
Access to the Proposed Express Lanes
Possible access points will be evaluated during project development studies.
Express Lane Connections
The express lanes proposed on Independence Boulevard as part of this project will connect with the express lanes proposed on Independence Boulevard to the northwest (STIP No. U-5526), the express lanes proposed on I-485 to the south/southwest (STIP No. I-5507) and the Monroe Connector/Bypass project (STIP No. R-3329/R-2559) to the southeast. This linkage will result in a seamless system of express and toll lanes along Independence Boulevard (U.S. 74) and I-485 south and east of Charlotte.
Coordination with Other Projects
Just west of the project, Independence Boulevard is currently being improved under STIP No. U-209 B. That project includes upgrading Independence Boulevard to an eight-lane route with interchanges at Sharon Amity Road and Idlewild Road and a grade-separated crossing at Conference Drive. STIP No. U-209 B also includes the construction of one bus lane in each direction in the median of Independence Boulevard. The project is anticipated to be completed in the late fall of 2016.
Preliminary design and environmental studies are underway for a project that will improve the 5.8-mile segment of Independence Boulevard to the west (from I-277 to Wallace Lane), STIP No. U-5526. That project calls for converting the existing and under-construction bus lanes on Independence Boulevard to express lanes.
The proposed Monroe Connector/Bypass project (STIP No. R-3329/R-2559) consists of constructing a toll road on new location from U.S. 74 at I-485 in eastern Mecklenburg County to U.S. 74 near the Town of Marshville in Union County.
Preliminary design and environmental studies are underway for a project that will improve I-485 from I-77 south of Charlotte to U.S. 74 east of Charlotte, STIP No. I-5507. That project calls for adding one express lane in each direction.
Area Projects Map (U.S. 74 and I-485)
Project History and Related Studies
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- 1998: CATS express bus service in median of Independence Boulevard begins after
widening/upgrading is completed to Wendover Avenue
- 2006: CATS express bus service in median of Independence Boulevard is extended after
widening/upgrading is completed to Albemarle Road (NC 27)
- 2007: FAST Lanes study begins; is joint effort by City of Charlotte, North Carolina Department
of Transportation, South Carolina Department of Transportation, and other local agencies in the surrounding ten-county area; purpose of study is to examine existing and planned major highways in the region to identify where express lanes could help manage congestion during peak travel periods
- 2008: Phase I Fast Lanes study is completed; report recommended five corridors for
detailed express lane studies, including U.S. 74 from I-277 to I-485
- 2009: Phase II Fast Lanes study is completed; detailed studies reveal great demand for
express lanes in the U.S. 74 East corridor; report recommends that Phase II findings be considered in updates to the Long Range Transportation Plan
- 2011:Urban Land Institute completes study of U.S. 74 corridor; recommends that either
bus rapid transit or express bus service operate in shared express lanes along Independence Boulevard rather than having both a dedicated transit right of way and express lanes
- 2011:Independence Boulevard Area Plan adopted by Charlotte City Council; establishes a
vision for the Independence Boulevard area and provided guidance policies to guide future growth, development, and reinvestment
- 2011:Based upon results of ULI study, Metropolitan Transit Commission decides that the
median of U.S. 74 does not need to be preserved exclusively for rapid transit
- 2012:Design plans for STIP No. U-209 B are revised by NCDOT at City of Charlotte’s
request in order to accommodate express bus lanes rather than future rapid transit in the median of Independence Boulevard
- 2013:Phase III of Fast Lanes study is completed; studies include public outreach and provide a
better understanding of policy and technical issues associated with express lanes
- 2013:STIP No. U-5526 is programmed for planning and environmental studies only
- 2013:Construction begins on project to widen and upgrade Independence Boulevard from
Albemarle Road to Wallace Lane, including bus lanes (STIP No. U-209 B)
- 2013: NCDOT prepares Feasibility Study for STIP No. U-2509
- 2014: Traffic and Revenue study for express lanes on U.S. 74 from I-277 to I-485 completed by
NCDOT in consultation with City of Charlotte, Town of Matthews, and other local agencies; suggested as “starter project” one reversible express lane from I-277 to Albemarle Road and two express lanes (one in each direction) from Albemarle Road to Wallace Lane; included analysis of possible access points, potential operational issues, express lane policy, costs and revenues
- 2014:Preliminary design and environmental studies began for STIP No. U-5526
- 2014: STIP No. U-5526 programmed for right of way acquisition and construction
Project Development Engineer
- Email: Contact Us
- Phone: (919) 707-6045
- Address:1548 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC, 27699-1548
Deputy Division Engineer
- Email: Contact Us
- Phone: (704) 983-4400
- Address: 716 West Main Street, Albemarle NC, 28001
Resources for Local Property Owners
Although the N.C. Department of Transportation works to minimize the number of homes and businesses displaced by a road project, it is inevitable, in many cases, that a certain amount of private property is needed. The following information explains right of way acquisition and answers questions about the process.