Monday, March 07, 2011

NCDOT chief: No more bypasses of bypasses

Don't expect the state to build your city a bypass to compensate for the existing bypass your local governments have glopped up, State Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said today. "Those days are gone," he said.

OK, he didn't say "glopped up." That's my description. Conti dropped by the Observer editorial board today in between local meetings in town – a business roundtable at UNC Charlotte, and he'll be at the 5 p.m. Charlotte City Council meeting for a discussion about recommendations for the Independence Boulevard project (also see this link, for more information).

He was being questioned about two toll road projects, the so-called Garden Parkway in Gaston County (See "Money-waster road will induce sprawl"), and the proposed Monroe Bypass. Both highways are needed, he said. That's his story and he's sticking to it, obviously. After all, the legislature has ordered them both, and Conti's job is to produce the roads he's charged with.

Neither of those highways, of course, is worth the taxpayer money that will be spent. But the Monroe bypass is at least an attempt, however uncreative, to ease a terribly unpleasant drive along U.S. 74 through Monroe and Union County.

The problem, of course, is that you can hardly go anywhere in North Carolina, or even in the country, and not find a state-taxpayer-built highway envisioned as a "bypass" that has become a traffic nightmare because the local government involved allowed extreme highway glop to be built along it. Even places as comparatively traffic free as Albemarle have clogged bypasses. Shelby wants a bypass of its bypass. They are all what former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory has referred to as "corridors of crap."

So, I asked Conti, should the state's taxpayers reward those towns with another new bypass?

His reply: "Well, no."

"All of us would benefit from a much greater collaboration on those growth issues," he said. He said the DOT is trying to work to bring local governments more into transportation discussions.
"The days of just trying to continually build bypasses of bypasses, those days are gone," he said.

So Shelby, Albemarle, Asheboro, Ramseur and all the other N.C. towns that have allowed corridors of crap along your state highways, be forewarned.

The realist in me, though, requires me to mention this: If the legislature orders a highway to be built, as it did via the Highway Trust Fund of the late 1980s, there's not much a DOT secretary can do about it.


Bréanainn Séaghdha said...

Or, just make it a rule (one that should have been in place from the beginning) that if you get a bypass it must remain a controlled access highway. That allows its future integration into the highway system without having to build a new bypass because intersections and crap have been built along the first bypass.

Anonymous said...

Doesnt the NCDOT report to the Gov. not the GA.

Anonymous said...


It's not enough just to make a bypass a freeway. You have to also think perpedicularly away from the freeway on each interchange about access, driveways, signals, etc. For instance, imagine what I-485 would be like if the NC 51/Pineville, Providence Road, and Hwy 521 interchanges didn't have their first traffic signals for, say, 1/2 mile away, instead of the 500-1000 feet that they currently are.

Of course, to buy up the access rights and make the perpendicular facilities controlled-access (all such facilities are always C/A in the immediate area of an interchange; what I'm describing would simply extend the limits significantly) would increase the cost of projects by a fortune. This is, of course, on top of the fortune it already costs to build a freeway instead of a surface highway a la US 74 through Monroe or Shelby.

And it also takes local elected officials having a pair to say "no" to intensification after intensification of land use. If Pineville had stopped approving rezonings to retail after Carolina Place Mall, the NC 51 interchange would be a much different place today.

John said...

Bottom line, it's the fault of the NC DOT. Had you retained control of the right-of-way, you could've prevented towns like Shelby from adding intersections.

One solutions, take out the lights and put up stop signs on the cross streets. Let 'em sit and wait for traffic to clear! Shelby and Spindale have become swear words on 74!

By the way, bypassing the bypass ISN'T bailing out the towns who "glopped it up", it's bailing out us taxpayers who already paid to avoid having to stop at every light while driving through those towns! NOT doing it, is giving those towns exactly what they want, direct exposure to captive traffic and revenue from traffic tickets. DUH!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6:02 said:
"Doesnt the NCDOT report to the Gov. not the GA."

and Gov. Purdue has such a great record for commons sense? ;)

I'm not sure she even knew where Charlotte was before her approval rating dropped to 20%!

Wiley Coyote said...

If we can't get another bypass of a bypass, then can we give Shelby to West Virginia?

Anonymous said...

So, why do I get punished and have to sit in traffic through Shelby? It's not my fault there was no land-use planning or access management on U.S. 74 before I was even BORN.

Not to mention you still can't drive from Wilmington-Charlotte-Asheville on a continuous freeway. It's quicker to go all the way through COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA from Wilmington to Asheville.

I've been very pleased with Conti up until this, but to simply ignore gaps in the intrastate freeway network is itself poor planning.

WashuOtaku said...

To be fair, the Shelby bypass was constructed in 1952, long before freeway style bypasses were considered and in a time when people didn't think much of urban sprawl. So yea, after 50+ years, Shelby has grown out and absorbed the bypass it was at one time actually bypassing.

Shelby needs a new bypass, to save us all from the countless stops and mysterious traffic that seems to always be there when I go through its city limits to Asheville. It's the broken link to an otherwise freeway connector route from I-85 to I-26.

Joseph said...

Just wanted to note, that the Shelby by-pass was built approx. 60 years ago - - before Interstate highways and before limited access was heavily utilized.

KrisK said...

The worst thing about bypasses is they suck the very life out of the historic downtowns. For every bit of glop on the bypass another local business in Shelby struggles in town where people still live, sidewalks abound and yet everyone has to drive out to the strip. It's not NCDOT's fault towns can't manage their growth. It is up to the elected officials to learn how to say no to unsustainable land use practices. If we can't mind our own house, why should we expect the state and ultimately the taxpayers to pick up the tab for our carelessness? Mr. Conti should be commended and Gov. Perdue as well, for finally bringing the leadership NCDOT has needed for 50 years.

Anonymous said...

What about Charlotte's corridor of crap? (or what locals call Independence Blvd)

Anonymous said...

West Virginia wouldn't want Shelby even if NC paid them to take it.

Anonymous said...

A bypass is built, and the stores in downtown NC are robbed of their traffic when Walmart comes in and builds a store on the bypass. But the Walmart generates too much traffic, so we build another bypass. And then Walmart says the existing store is outdated and obsolete, and builds a new store on the new bypass. And what is left in that town is empty shells of life that used to exist.

Anonymous said...

A bypass is built, and the stores in downtown NC are robbed of their traffic when Walmart comes in and builds a store on the bypass. But the Walmart generates too much traffic, so we build another bypass. And then Walmart says the existing store is outdated and obsolete, and builds a new store on the new bypass. And what is left in that town is empty shells of life that used to exist.

Wiley Coyote said...

U.S. 74 Bypass on track

Wednesday, Jun 20 2007, 5:49 pm
Pete DeLea

SHELBY — Shelby’s new U.S. 74 Bypass remains on track for construction to start in about four years, according to state transportation officials.

Dan Grissom, division construction engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation, said the federal government should sign off on all the environmental aspects of the project by late fall and rights-of-way acquisition could begin in 2008 or early 2009.

"The best guess on construction starting is in 2011 or 2012," said Grissom. "Those dates are contingent upon funding."

The U.S. 74 Bypass is part of the state’s 2006-2012 Transportation Improvement Plan, which includes 3,421 major projects totaling about $12.2 billion. The bypass will cost about $300 million.

Currently, funding has only been allocated for grading projects and building bridges.

Shelby Mayor Ted Alexander said the new bypass should bring in the industries that rely on easy access to the highway system.

"It will make transportation in and through Shelby much easier," said Alexander. "It will enhance our opportunities to attract new industries."

Previously, county economic development leaders said just the plan to build a new bypass has attracted new businesses, including the Wal-Mart distribution center, which noted the future bypass as a reason for choosing Shelby.

With the plan in the works for several years, Alexander said, he’s looking forward to seeing black top on the ground.

"Obviously, the sooner this project gets under way the better," said Alexander.

Anonymous said...

When we moved here in 1994 I was appalled by Independence "Boulevard" (and actually traffic in general). Traffic was terrible on Independence and there was so much "junk" along it. Shortly thereafter I remember a quote in the Observer from the city planner (can't remember who that was)something to the effect that he thought traffic plans in Charlotte were developing just fine. Huh???? Fast forward to today--Independence is still a mess and who knows what are the actual plans for improving it--haven't they been continually reworked (and at what cost to taxpayers)? Mary, could you give us a quick primer on the history of Independence Blvd up to today? (I chuckle every time I read about sprawl in the far out suburbs, because it seems to me that Independence is a prime example of sprawl right here in the big city.)

Anonymous said...

Quick History on Indy:
- Old Independence ran as a hybrid boulevard expressway on Charlottetowne/Stonewall/South/Carson in the 1950s
- Current Independence identified as a future expressway since the 1960s
- Planned under the Federal process for expressway conversion since the 1970s
- Designed by NCDOT as an expressway since the 1980s
- Under construction and identified as rapid transit corridor since the 1990s

Anonymous said...

The only way to waste taxpayer money when it comes to transportation issues is to NOT give the taxpayers what they want. The people have spoken, and what the people want is this: to have their taxes spent on newer highways that allow them to quickly drive from one highway exit to another.

That way they can drive quickly from their local Target/Best Buy/Chili's shopping center to the Kohls/Walmart/Publix shopping center a few miles away. Then they can drive back to their original highway exit to Piney Grove subdivision and unload their new consumer goods without having had to sit at too many red lights.

Spend the tax money where the taxpayers want it to be spent -- on more roads!

And please spare me the cries about your precious historic downtowns. The taxpayers have spoken and they much prefer the Walmart Super Center on Exit 212 to the little shops on Main Street.

Kyle Merville said...

Kudos on showing up on Streetsblog with this story!

Stephen said...

Is it that bad to have to spend an extra 3.5 minutes (Max.) in Shelby? It doesn't exactly kill the drive for me, it breaks it up and reminds me I'm driving on a highway instead of an empty interstate. Maybe I'm not in enough of a hurry.

Bréanainn Séaghdha said...

I think elected officials have a duty to give the tax payers what they want with their tax dollars. However, they also have a duty to future generations to make sure those dollars are implemented in a way that decreases the burden of maintenance and replacement on future generations. I know everyone generally hates to spend more money up front than need be, but often times, spending more money now (ie, on a more expensive controlled access) means spending much less money in the future (ie, on an entirely new bypass because the first one is clogged up).