Interstate 485 is the Charlotte Outer Loop serving Mecklenburg County and metropolitan Charlotte. The 67-mile beltway doubles as both a bypass route for Interstates 77 and 85 and a commuter route for the Mecklenburg County suburbs.
The origins of the beltway began with planners in 1975. Powered by N.C. Board of Transportation member Seddon "Rusty" Goode starting in 19785, the often controversial freeway did not see construction until 1988 when work commenced on the southern leg.3 The beltway was fully opened to traffic on June 5, 2015, with AASHTO approving the final link of the beltway as I-485 on May 15, 2015.
It is hoped that the Beltway will not cause an increased exodus of residents from the city to the suburbs. The highway was originally envisioned as a four lane rural freeway. However, area development surrounding the oldest stretch of Interstate 485 in south Mecklenburg County swelled traffic counts to 107,000 vehicles per day (vpd). This constituted the 10th most heavily traveled highway in the state. To mitigate some of these growing pains, many of the newer segments were built with six or eight lanes instead of the originally envisioned four.3 Additionally officials decided to use both cardinal directions and inner and outer belt signs along the Interstate 485 beltway. Mile markers are placed every two-tenths of a mile.5
As of March 2002, two sections of Interstate 485 were open to traffic: The northeastern section which totaled about three miles and connected Interstate 85 with North Carolina 49, and the southern section, complete with a stack interchange at Interstate 77, linking North Carolina 160 west of I-77 with North Carolina 51 east of Charlotte. By August 2002, Interstate 485 was extended northeast to Lawyers Road, north of U.S. 74, with construction continuing through to North Carolina 218. (Thanks to Ayan Kayal for the update to the construction update.)
Interstate 485 grew by another 7.5 miles on September 3, 2003. This segment between Albemarle Road (North Carolina 24-27) and North Carolina 49 opened to traffic after weather related delays pushed back the planned opening from July 1 to mid-August1, and ultimately into September. The $55.4 million roadway took 2.5 years to complete and provides a six lane freeway between Interstate 85 and University City.2 Interchanges at Rocky River and Harrisburg Roads were included on this segment.
An additional five miles of Interstate 485 were slated to open from North Carolina 49 to Lawyers Road at Mint Hill by mid-October 2003. However engineering difficulties encountered with bridge design on the segment added to the delays2 as well with problems associated with plans for sewer pipes.6 Delays caused by heavy rains during the winter and spring of 2003 pushed back the original opening date of July 1. Finally on November 19, 2003, the Mint Hill segment of freeway opened to traffic. This ribbon cutting increased the total mileage of Interstate 485 to 39 miles or about 60 percent complete. 3
The aforementioned wet weather also pushed back the construction schedule on the southwestern leg of Interstate 485. This 7.4-mile segment extended the freeway to Wilkinson Boulevard and Interstate 85.3 Instead of a December 2003 or March 2004 opening date for the Beltway between Interstates 77 and 85, the segment opened on October 19, 2004.7 New interchanges along the stretch included exits with Arrowood Road, North Carolina 160 (Steele Creek Road), Wilkinson Boulevard and I-85. At that time Interstate 485 expanded to 47 miles or 70% completion.1 The $100 project six-lane project provides an alternate route to Wilkinson Boulevard and Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) as an alternative to Billy Graham Parkway (former U.S. 521).6
As of November 2004 every portion of the overall 67-mile loop was open or under construction with the exception of the six-mile segment from North Carolina 115 (Old Statesville Road) to Interstate 85 to the northeast. The unexpected growth that coincided with the construction of Interstate 485 swelled traffic counts to 112,000 vehicles per day (vpd) south of the city.. This led engineers to expand design of the newer freeway segments with additional lanes and better interchanges to augment problems with development and increasing traffic expectations.5 Additionally a $14.7-million contract was awarded to a contractor in 2004 to build an additional lane in each direction between Interstate 77 and Arrowood Road.6 That expansion project was completed in 2006.
The next section, from Interstate 85 north to North Carolina 27 (Mount Holly Road), opened on December 15, 2006. Opening of this stretch came some 18 months after the scheduled planned opening date of July 2005.8, 9 This stretch of freeway included a roundabout interchange at Moore's Chapel Road, which is the only of its kind on the Charlotte belt line.
Following the 2006 opening, a section of Interstate 485 between North Carolina 27 (Mount Holly Road) north to North Carolina 16 (Brookshire Boulevard), opened on May 8, 2007.10 Completion of the northwest quadrant of Interstate 485 occurred on December 5, 2008, with the extension of freeway east to both Interstate 77 and North Carolina 115 (Exit 23C). Construction began on the northernmost reaches of Interstate 485 near I-77 at Huntersville in December 2003. This element of the project entailed $94 million in roadwork.3 Unfortunately due to construction and weather delays, the December 2008 opening was two years beyond the original timetable.1 AASHTO conditionally approved the entire segment of Interstate 485 between Interstate 85 clockwise to Interstate 77 (11.95 miles) on May 15, 2009, pending FHWA concurrence.
The potential opening of the northeastern quadrant of I-485 67-mile highway is for construction by 2012 or 20136 at a total cost of $1.2 billion.3
The final segment of Interstate 485 to open was the northeastern quadrant, 5.7 miles from NC 155 east of I-77 to I-85. It was thought in 2009 that the last piece of the beltway might be under construction that year and finished by 2012 if stimulus funds were secured. The $231.7-million segment encountered several delays, pushing back scheduled opening of the freeway from December 2014 to spring 2015.11 It was then announced on May 13, 2015 that a ribbon cutting ceremony would take place on June 5, 2015 around noon,12 officially completing Interstate 485.
Proposed interchanges at Oakdale Road in the northwest quadrant and North Carolina 51 in the southeast quadrant at Mint Hill were not included in original construction of Interstate 485. This was due to the nature of the undeveloped area in those vicinities and the reduced need for interchanges at that time.1 The postponement of work at NC 51 was requested by the town of Mint Hill. Several residents however petitioned the local government to rescind that request and have the interchange constructed. Mint Hill Mayor Ted Biggers was opposed to this, citing that the highway was only two lanes with just 8,200 vehicles per day (vpd). Biggers felt that the opening of I-485 would alleviate pressure from North Carolina 51, as motorists used the route to access nearby Albemarle Road.4 The diamond interchange with NC 51 eventually opened by 2005. The Oakdale Road diamond interchange was graded but remains unopened as of 2015.
After U.S. 521 ends a brief overlap with Interstate 485, the freeway proceeds westward to the Interstate 77/U.S. 21 stack interchange. The right-hand lane becomes exit-only for the north-south freeway. Photo taken by Daniel Davis (12/02).
Now within one half mile of Interstate 77/U.S. 21 (Exit 67) on Interstate 485 westbound. A space is allocated between the TO and the Interstate 85 shield, for the word NORTH. When Interstate 485 is completed to Interstate 85 near Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, traffic to Interstate 85 south will no longer have to take Interstate 77 through downtown to reach the freeway. Photo taken by Daniel Davis (12/02).
Westbound Interstate 485 at Interstate 77/U.S. 21/Exit 67. There are no control cities for Interstate 485 at this interchange, because Interstate 485 has yet to be completed to Interstate 85 in either direction. Photo taken 10/01.
A three lane ramp provides access to Interstate 77/U.S. 21 from Interstate 485 westbound. In addition to the connection to Interstate 77, access to the local area roads of Westinghouse Boulevard (Interstate 77 Exit 1) and Arrowood Road (Interstate 77 Exit 3) is provided. Photo taken by Daniel Davis (12/02).
Perspective from Interstate 485 east
Interstate 485 eastbound at Exit 1/North Carolina 49 - South Tryon Street. This diamond interchange is just one mile to the northwest of the Interstate 77/U.S. 21 symmetrical stack interchange. This segment of freeway has been open since 1999. Photo taken 05/30/05.
The North Carolina 49 eastbound on-ramp becomes the exit-only lane for Interstate 77/U.S. 21. This overhead is situated one half mile to the northwest of the beltway terminus. Photo taken 05/30/05.
The ramp for Exit 67 to Interstate 77/U.S. 21 departs well in advance of the symmetrical stack interchange on Interstate 485 eastbound. Downtown Charlotte is just seven miles to the north while the South Carolina state line is crossed in two miles to the south. The capital city of South Carolina is 80 miles south of this junction via Interstate 77 and South Carolina 277. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Taking the Exit 67 ramp to the partition for Interstate 77/U.S. 21 north and southbound. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (07/06/03).
Proceeding through the stack interchange of Exit 67 on Interstate 485 eastbound. The mainline constitutes the second level of the four level affair. Interstate 485 sees its next interchange with the U.S. 521 overlap begin at Pineville in two miles. Photo taken 05/30/05.
The first exit after the Interstate 77/U.S. 21 interchange is Exit 65B, Pineville, followed by Exit 65A, South Boulevard. Note the lack of cardinal direction banner or inner/outer designation on this overhead pull-through sign. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Perspective from Interstate 77/U.S. 21 south
The first sign of the pending interchange with Interstate 485/Exit 2 on Interstate 77/U.S. 21 southbound. Interstate 485 to the southeast is designated the James G. Martin Freeway, named so after a local politician who advocated the construction of Interstate 485. Photo taken by Daniel Davis (12/02).
Southbound Interstate 77/U.S. 21 at Exit 3/Arrowood Road. This local exit features an exit ramp from the oncoming northbound Interstate 485 ramps because of the close proximity. Photo taken by Daniel Davis (12/02).
A closer look at the Interstate 77/U.S. 21 and Interstate 485 guide signs Pictured in the above photograph. Although signage suggests otherwise, three through lanes are maintained for Interstate 77 through the symmetrical stack interchange. Photo taken 10/05/01.
Crossing over Arrowood Road, two lanes for Interstate 485/Exit 2 depart. As of January 2003, Interstate 485 is only one third of the way complete. Therefore there are no control cities for any of the two segments at this time. Photo taken by Daniel Davis (12/02).
This mainline Interstate 77 photograph shows the Interstate 485 ramps to the right, with a slip ramp bringing Arrowood Road traffic onto Interstate 77 southbound. Exit 1 of Westinghouse Boulevard is situated near the southern reaches of the stack interchange, and therefore ties into the Interstate 485 ramp framework in a similar fashion to that of Arrowood Road interchange. Photo taken 10/05/01.
A view of the sign bridge Pictured in the above photograph, but from the Interstate 485 ramp perspective. This particular set of signs features the local control point of Pineville for Interstate 485. The suburb of Charlotte saw U.S. 521 relocated from its streets onto Interstate 485 in 2001. Photo taken by Daniel Davis (12/02).
Proceeding onto the Interstate 485 ramps from southbound is this sign bridge. Interstate 485 eastbound carries the Martin Freeway designation. Westbound carries the Rusty Goode Freeway designation (also named after a Charlotte area politician). Photo taken by Daniel Davis (12/02).
Exit 1 to Westinghouse Boulevard departs from Interstate 77/U.S. 21 southbound under the web of the Interstate 485 stack interchange. Therefore access to the local highway is also granted from the Interstate 485 to Interstate 77 southbound associated ramps. Photo taken 10/05/01.
Looking upwards at the stack interchange via Interstate 77/U.S. 21 southbound. This is the only symmetrical stack interchange within the state of North Carolina. The closest similar interchange can be found at Spaghetti Junction in Atlanta. Photo taken 10/05/01.
Perspective from Interstate 77/U.S. 21 north
Interstate 485 gantry in South Carolina on Interstate 77 northbound. This sign bridge originally held signs placed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, but upon completion of the reconstruction and widening of Interstate 77 from four to eight lanes, the South Carolina Department of Transportation placed its own signs here. Photos taken by Chris Curley (10/00) and on 10/05/01.
Northbound ramps for Interstate 485 split away from Interstate 77 in advance of the stack interchange. Photos taken by Chris Curley (10/00) and on 10/05/01.
West Parent Interstate Junction - Interstate 85 - west of Charlotte, North Carolina
Perspective from Interstate 85 north
Interstate 85 north approaches its western junction with Interstate 485 near Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Prior to that interchange is Exit 29, Sam Wilson Road. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Shortly thereafter, Interstate 85 north meets Exit 29 (Sam Wilson Road) about one-half mile west of the Interstate 485 west parent junction near Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Pictured here is the Sam Wilson Road diamond interchange and Exit 30 overhead for Interstate 485 south/outer loop to Interstate 77. Pineville represents the Interstate 485 control city for its junction with Interstate 77 near the South Carolina state line. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Interstate 85 north meets Interstate 485. Currently only the connection to southbound / outer loop is open at this exit. Use Interstate 485 south to Interstate 77 and Pineville. Work continues on the Charlotte Outer Belt to extend the freeway another seven miles north to Brookshire Boulevard (North Carolina 16) by 2006. Until than ramp stubs will remain in place for Interstate 85 onto Future Interstate 485 north. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Northbound Interstate 85 reaches Exit 30, Junction Interstate 485 south/outer loop, which connects to Interstate 77 south to Columbia, South Carolina. The control city for Interstate 485 east is Pineville. The second photo shows the interchange under construction in 2001; the interchange opened to traffic on October 19, 2004, to extend Interstate 485 northwest from Interstate 77 at Exit 3 (Arrowood Road) west of Charlotte. Photos taken on 05/30/05 and on 10/05/01.
The transition ramp from northbound Interstate 85 to Interstate 485 will eventually split, with a connection to Interstate 485 north (inner loop) and Interstate 485 south (outer loop) to Pineville and Interstate 77. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Perspective from Interstate 485 south
The first pull-through reassurance sign on eastbound (southbound) Interstate 485 is located immediately after traffic merges onto the beltway from Interstate 85 ... but this is only a collector-distributor lane! The first exit on Interstate 485's outer loop is Exit 9, Junction U.S. 29-74/Independence Boulevard. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Continuing southeast along the outer loop collector-distributor lane, Exit 9 serves U.S. 29-74/Independence Boulevard. In the distance, the collector-distributor lanes merge onto the mainline of the Interstate 485 beltway. The main lanes were not open at the time this picture was taken. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Traffic from the collector-distributor lanes merges onto the main lanes of Interstate 485. This merge will be busier once the main lanes open to traffic. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Briefly five lanes in width on the outer loop, Interstate 485 quickly sheds two lanes after the main lanes and collector-distributor lanes merge. Photo taken 05/30/05).
The first roadside reassurance shield is posted after the five lanes become three lanes. Interstate 485 is known as the Seddon "Rusty" Goode, Jr. Freeway. Note that the reassurance shield lacks a cardinal direction banner, which is typical for most of Interstate 485 as it travels around and bypasses Charlotte. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Perspective from Interstate 485 north
The second to last exit on northbound Interstate 485 (inner loop) is Exit 9, Junction U.S. 29-74/Wilkinson Boulevard. Following that, Interstate 485 meets its temporary end at Interstate 85 (Exit 10). Photo taken 07/12/05.
A second set of overheads are found a mile down the road on northbound Interstate 485 (inner loop). The next exit is Exit 9, Junction U.S. 29-74/Wilkinson Boulevard, followed by Exit 10, Junction Interstate 85. Photo taken 07/12/05.
U.S. 29-74/Wilkinson Boulevard closely parallel Interstate 85 west of Charlotte as the freeway skirts the western edge of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Photo taken 07/12/05.
All traffic shift from the mainline of northbound Interstate 485 (inner loop) onto the collector-distributor lanes for Exits 10A-B, Junction Interstate 85 north/south. Photo taken 07/12/05.
The first ramp transitions from the collector-distributor lane onto Interstate 85 northeast to Charlotte (Exit 10A). Photo taken 06/22/05.
The left lane connects to southbound (westbound) Interstate 85, while the right lane connects to northbound (eastbound) Interstate 85. Exit right to Charlotte and the airport; exit left to Gastonia and Spartanburg, South Carolina. Photo taken 06/22/05.
Northbound Interstate 485 (inner loop) reaches Exit 10A, Junction Interstate 85 northeast to Charlotte. Continue straight ahead for the connection to Interstate 85 southwest to Gastonia and Spartanburg, South Carolina. Photo taken 07/12/05.
For now, all traffic must exit as northbound Interstate 485 ends and the collector-distributor lanes all funnel onto Interstate 85 southwest to Gastonia via Exit 10B. The future lanes for the continuation of Interstate 485 are already paved and nearly ready for use. Photo taken 07/12/05.
East Parent Interstate Junction - Interstate 85 - northeast of Charlotte, North Carolina
Perspective from Interstate 485 north
The penultimate exit on northbound (outer loop) Interstate 485 is Exit 32, Junction U.S. 29. The final exit is the junction with Interstate 85 ... at least until Interstate 485 is extended west to complete the belt route around the Charlotte metropolitan area. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Within the U.S. 29 interchange, Interstate 485 sees the first sign of the Interstate 85 east parent junction in the form of this southbound sign. Note that the control city is Spartanburg because of the close proximity to the city of Charlotte. Photo taken 05/30/05.
One half mile overhead for the Interstate 85 northbound off-ramp. This sign features a blank exit tab and space allocation for an eventual exit-only plate. There is no need for the exit-only distinction now as all traffic must depart Interstate 485 for either north or south Interstate 85. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Room is allocated for the future continuation of Interstate 485; the trumpet interchange currently in place is not the final configuration. Photo taken 05/30/05.
The current eastern terminus of the northeastern section of Interstate 485. This will eventually be the overall eastern terminus, until 2010 or 2011 when Interstate 485 north of Interstate 85 is complete. Note the original concrete ramps ahead. This junction has been in place essentially since the completion of Interstate 85 in northeast Charlotte. Photo taken 05/30/05.
A south Interstate 85 reassurance shield is posted on the ramp from Interstate 485 north. This interchange is a trumpet for now. The next off-ramp motorists utilizing this ramp will encounter is Exit 46 for Mallard Creek Church Road. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/14/03).
Perspective from Interstate 85 north
Interstate 85 northbound reaches Exit 46B, Mallard Creek Road west. The next exit is Exit 48, Junction Interstate 485 (one mile). Compare the overhead signs from 2005 with the single roadside sign from 2002. The "To U.S. 29" was removed once Interstate 485 was completed as a beltway all the way to Interstate 77 south of downtown Charlotte. Photos taken 06/22/05 and Jonathan Lebowitz (08/02).
One-half mile guide sign on Interstate 85 north for Exit 48/Interstate 485 south. Signage in the background is for the nearby Lowe's Motor Speedway, accessible from Exit 50. Compare the 2005 signage with the 2002 signage, which reflects widening of Interstate 85 through this stretch and the completion of Interstate 485 (thus the control city of Rock Hill). Photos taken 06/22/05 and Jonathan Lebowitz (08/02).
Signage at the interchange of Interstate 485's temporary end. For years this freeway was just a spur from Interstate 85 to U.S. 29. Signage originally only carried a TO U.S. 29 designation. Now it extends south to North Carolina 49, and ongoing construction will link this orphaned segment with the much larger section to the south. This interchange retains concrete roadways that date to the original construction of this connector. Photos taken 06/22/05 and Jonathan Lebowitz (08/02).
An Interstate 85 north reassurance sign is posted under the ramp from southbound Interstate 85 to southbound Interstate 485. Photo taken 06/22/05.
Perspective from Interstate 85 south
1.25 miles to the northeast of Interstate 485/Exit 48 on Interstate 85 southbound. The overpass and on-ramp are apart of the Exit 49 interchange for Lowe's Motor Speedway and Speedway Boulevard. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/17/03).
This auxiliary sign for Exit 48 displays the primary function of Interstate 485 in northeast Charlotte at present. The sign may remain from the pre-Interstate 485 era. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/17/03).
Now one half mile out from the Interstate 485 eastern terminus. No control city is given to this segment of freeway at the moment. When the link to Interstate 77 is complete by March 2004, Mint Hill may well be added as the destination. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/17/03).
Exit 48 guide sign for Interstate 485 south/U.S. 29 at the off-ramp from Interstate 85. The next three interchanges of Interstate 85 serve the University Research Park area. Otherwise Interstate 85 is only 11 miles to the northeast of downtown Charlotte. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/17/03).
A U.S. 29 trailblazer is in place on the Interstate 85 to Interstate 485 southbound ramp. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/17/03).
Perspective from Interstate 485 south
The first reassurance shield for Interstate 485 southbound minus a cardinal direction banner. In the background is the U.S. 29 interchange. The control cities for the US highway are Charlotte and Concord. All traffic must exit at the North Carolina 49 interchange in 1.25 miles otherwise. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/17/03).