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 convert the bus lanes in the median of Independence Boulevard (U.S. 74) in Charlotte from I-277 to Wallace Lane to express lanes. The project length is 5.8 miles.
This conversion will include the bus lanes that currently exist between I-277 and Albemarle Road (N.C. 27), as well as the bus lanes that are currently being constructed from Albemarle Road to Wallace Lane.
The purpose of this project is to provide travel time reliability in the Independence Boulevard corridor. In combination with improvements proposed on Independence Boulevard to the east in Matthews, the proposed project will give motorists the choice of paying a fee for a reliable trip time on U.S. 74 between I-485 in Matthews and I-277 in Charlotte.
Project Need and Overview
Need for Project
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. 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 segment of 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.
The remaining segment, from Albemarle Road to Wallace Lane (2.0 miles), is currently being widened to an eight-lane expressway with interchanges under STIP No. U-209 B. All traffic signals on Independence Boulevard are being removed as part of that project, and one bus lane is being constructed in each direction in the median. The project is anticipated to be completed in the late fall of 2016.
Project development studies are underway for improvements to Independence Boulevard from Conference Drive in Charlotte to I-485 in Matthews under STIP Project U-2509.
Independence Boulevard is the primary east-west route in the region. It has been identified as a strategic highway corridor. Improving this segments 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.
The median of Independence Boulevard from I-277 to Albemarle Road (3.8 miles) contains two bus lanes that are currently used only by CATS express buses. Those lanes are separated from the general lanes by concrete barriers.
NCDOT is currently widening and improving Independence Boulevard from Albemarle Road to Wallace Lane under STIP No. U-209 B. That segment of Independence Boulevard, upon the completion of U-209 B, will have one bus lane in each direction in the median separated by a single concrete barrier. The bus lanes will be separated from the general traffic lanes by dual paint stripes.
The existing and under-construction bus lanes on Independence Boulevard between I-277 and Wallace Lane will be converted to express lanes. The project includes pavement resurfacing and restriping, and the installation of signs, pavement markers and electronic toll and traffic management equipment. Minor modifications within the existing median will be required in the vicinity of Hawthorne Lane and Albemarle Road. Little or no additional right of way is anticipated for these improvements. The need for improvements to Independence Boulevard east of Wallace Lane (near Village Lake Drive) is also being considered to ensure proper operation of the eastbound (outbound) express lane in the afternoon hours.
The project will consist of two distinct segments:
- Segment 1, from I-277 to Albemarle Road, will consist of one reversible express lane. The express lane will operate in the inbound/westbound direction (toward Uptown Charlotte) in the morning and in the outbound/eastbound direction (towards Matthews) in the afternoon. The express lane will be separated from the general traffic lanes by concrete barriers on either side.
- Segment 2, from Albemarle Road to Wallace Lane, will consist of one express lane in each direction. The express lanes will be separated from each other by concrete barriers and from the general traffic lanes by a four-foot buffer.
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 ensure their ideas and concerns are identified and considered. This coordination will continue as we prepare project design plans.
Environmental and Preliminary Design Studies
Currently, NCDOT is conducting detailed field studies of the project area to identify potential impacts to human and natural environments.
NCDOT is also preparing preliminary design plans for the proposed improvements to Independence Boulevard from I-277 to Wallace Lane.
In March 2015, NCDOT held two public meetings for this project and for the neighboring project on Independence Boulevard to the southeast (from Conference Drive in Charlotte to I-485 in Matthews):
- Currently, no recent news releases.
Access to the Proposed Express Lanes
Access to and from the express lanes will be provided at three locations:
- Independence Boulevard, east of I-277
- Albemarle Road (N.C. 27)
- Independence Boulevard, west of Wallace Lane
In the morning hours the proposed express lane will operate in the inbound (westbound) direction only. Motorists on Independence Boulevard will be able to enter the proposed express lane at either Wallace Lane or Albemarle Road (N.C. 27). To access the inbound express lane at Wallace Lane, Independence Boulevard motorists will merge left to enter the express lane from the general traffic lanes. To access the inbound express lane at Albemarle Road, Albemarle Road motorists will merge left and then follow a special ramp to reach the express lane.
All traffic in the inbound express lane will be required to exit that lane and merge with the general traffic lanes prior to reaching the I-277 interchange.
In the afternoon hours the proposed express lane will operate in the outbound (eastbound) direction only. Motorists on Independence Boulevard will be able to enter the proposed express lane at only one location, just east of I-277. To access the outbound express lane, Independence Boulevard motorists will merge left to enter the express lane from the general traffic lanes. Motorists will be able to exit the proposed express lane at either Albemarle Road (N.C. 27) or Wallace Lane. To exit the outbound express lane at Albemarle Road, motorists will exit right and follow a special ramp to reach Albemarle Road. To exit the outbound express lane at Wallace Lane exit, motorists in the express lane will merge right to enter the general traffic lanes.
All traffic in the outbound express lane will be required to exit the express lane and merge with the general traffic lanes near Wallace Lane.
Options being considered for Accessing I-277 from the Inbound (Westbound) Express Lane
Due to the short distance between the western end of the proposed express lane and the I-277 interchange, two options are being considered for access from the proposed express lane to I-277 in the morning hours:
- Access to both I-277 Northbound (Brookshire Freeway) and I-277 Southbound (Belk Freeway)
- Access to only I-277 Southbound (Belk Freeway)
Travel Information for Motorists
Dynamic message signs will be installed as part of the project to give motorists the information they will need in deciding whether to use the proposed express lanes or the general traffic lanes. This information will include estimated travel time to upcoming interchanges and the cost of using the express lanes.
Express Lane Connections
The express lanes proposed on Independence Boulevard as part of this project (STIP No. U-5526) will connect with the express lanes proposed on Independence Boulevard to the southeast (STIP No. U-2509), the express lanes proposed on I-485 to the south/southwest (STIP No. I-5507) and the toll road proposed under 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. These projects are described in more detail below in the “Coordination with Other Projects” section.
Coordination with Other Projects
The easternmost 2.0-mile segment of the project 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 includes the construction of one bus lane in each direction in the median of Independence Boulevard and is anticipated to be completed in the fall of 2016.
Preliminary studies and coordination are underway for a project that will improve the 6.3-mile segment of Independence Boulevard to the east (from Conference Drive to I-485), STIP No. U-2509. That project calls for upgrading Independence Boulevard to provide additional capacity and safety. This project is anticipated to include upgrading Independence Boulevard to a route with interchanges or grade-separated crossings at major intersecting roads. It will also include the construction of express lanes along Independence Boulevard.
The proposed Monroe Connector/Bypass project (STIP No. R-3329/R-2559) calls for 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 (N.C. 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)
- 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.