What they said about Charlotte’s outerbelt

Providence Road and I-485. Photo Nancy Pierce

Charlotte leaders have been talking about the outerbelt, Interstate 485, for decades. While most residents were concerned primarily with what it would mean for drive times, planners and others spent time contemplating the highway's effect on the area's growth. A sampling of comments over the years.

“We’re going to have to get far more serious about land planning. … Some people are going to wake up in 20 years and be absolutely shocked.” 

— Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Director Martin Cramton, 1998

“It’ll never stop being under construction … but we’ll never build enough lanes.”

— Charlotte Department of Transportation official Bill Finger, 1998

“It sounds as if your decision to build this road is to open up more land for development. … If I thought you would listen to me, I’d tell you not to build it. It’s going to be more trouble than you want.”

— Harry West, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, 1998

“I vividly remember Mr. West's comments at that conference. And time has proved him true. This billion-dollar infrastructure project causes the market to distribute land use in its wake. And since it turned land that had been used to row-crop food into land that is used to row-crop homes that are followed by row-cropped retail centers, it in turn demands more infrastructure investment. But the distances involved now make the cost of that provision daunting.”

— Bill Coxe, Huntersville transportation planner, former Mecklenburg County transportation planner, 2014

“M-UMPO takes particular note of the caveat in the study that intensified land use will keep the belt road from functioning effectively. … An outer loop freeway creates a complex system of transportation and land use. If the land use could be held constant and the interchanges spaced so that the ramp systems did not interfere with each other, the loop would work well. ... What has happened throughout the nation, however, is that building an outer loop has increased the demand for new development and land use was not held constant. Correspondingly, the loop was not able to function effectively given the impact of the intensified land use.”

— I-485 Interchange Analysis, Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization (M-UMPO), 1999

“The outerbelt provided an incentive for development to leapfrog to exurban areas. I think that was the most negative aspect of construction of 485. However, we have been good at integrating land use and transportation.”

— Debra Campbell, 2004-2014 Charlotte planning director and now Charlotte assistant city manager, 2015

“We’re trying to find ways to avoid congestion. This area is not finished growing.”

— Warren Cooksey, N.C. Department of Transportation, former Charlotte City Council member, 2015

“We have waited for a very long time for our leg (of the outerbelt) to be completed. We are at the cusp of a development momentum. I think great things are in store for University City.”

—Darlene Heater, executive director of University City Partners, 2015

“I think Charlotte was in the mood to grow. People were anxious for development. We wanted to be a bigger city. I don’t think anybody, even Martin Cramton, who was a very bright man, imagined that it would be this unbelievably sprawling.”

— Carla DuPuy, former Mecklenburg County commissioners’ chair, 2015