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. Mileposts originate at the four-level interchange with I-77 in south Charlotte. Exit numbers increase clockwise.
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.
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 to North Carolina 218. (Thanks to Ayan Kayal for the update to the construction update.)
Interstate 485 extended an additional 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 weather delays 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 million, six-lane project provided 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 18 months after the scheduled planned opening date of July 2005.8, 9 This section of freeway included a roundabout interchange at Moore’s Chapel Road, 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 final segment of Interstate 485 to open was the northeastern quadrant, 5.7 miles from NC 115 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 traffic counts of 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 interchange was graded but remained unopened until July 2015, when NCDOT awarded a $4.8 million contract to finish the dumbbell interchange. Work followed a 1999 study that recommended completing the ramps once development spread to 75 percent of the land within a half mile radius of the interchange. Construction wrapped up on the new exit in November 2016.13
Interstate 485 turns southward from the diverging diamond interchange (Exit 28) with Mallard Creek Road to I-85. Photo taken 12/15/16.
A pair of arrow-per-lane (APL) overheads precede the turbine interchange (Exit 30) joining the Charlotte Beltway with Interstate 85. Photo taken 12/15/16.
Four lanes separate from the I-485 inner loop for Interstate 85 south toward central Charlotte and north to Concord and Kannapolis. Photo taken 12/15/16.
Exit 30 separates into dual lane ramps for Interstate 85 south toward Spartanburg, South Carolina and north to the Piedmont Triad. Photo taken 12/15/16.
Historic perspective from Interstate 485 north
The outer loop of I-485 approaching I-85 a decade before the completion of the beltway across north Charlotte. The northbound stretch between U.S. 29 and I-85 now accommodates five lanes with a pair of APL's outlining the forthcoming turbine interchange (Exit 30). Photo taken 05/30/05.
The section of I-485 linking U.S. 29 and Interstate 85 in northeastern Charlotte replaced a short expressway linking the parallel routes. Traffic at the north end originally partitioned at a trumpet interchange. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Historic perspective from Interstate 85 north
The oldest section of Interstate 485 opened to traffic was the expressway link between I-85 and U.S. 29 in northeast Charlotte. The first signs for I-485 acknowledged the connection with U.S. 29. Photo taken by Jonathan Lebowitz (08/02).
When the eastern half of Interstate 485 was completed, guide signs for I-485 referenced Rock Hill, South Carolina. Photo taken 06/22/05.
One half mile ahead of Exit 48 on I-85 north. Photo taken by Jonathan Lebowitz (08/02).
Interstate 85 was expanded from four to eight lanes between Mallard Creek Church Road and I-485 between 2003-05. Photo taken 06/22/05.
Entering the previous trumpet interchange (Exit 48) with the I-485 connector south to U.S. 29 (Tryon Street) on I-85 north. Photo taken by Jonathan Lebowitz (08/02).
Guide signs for I-485 were changed to reference Matthews, a southeastern Charlotte suburb, instead of Rock Hill, South Carolina. Photo taken 06/22/05.
Historic perspective from Interstate 85 south
Ground level signs directed traffic on Interstate 85 south for the I-485 connector to U.S. 29 in northeastern Charlotte. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/17/03).
Exit 48 departed from I-85 south for Interstate 485. I-85 and U.S. 29 (Tryon Street) parallel each other west through the University Research Park area. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/17/03).
West End – Charlotte, North Carolina
Perspective from Interstate 85 north
Interstate 85 proceeds east from the Catawba River to a diamond interchange (Exit 29) with Sam Wilson Road and the succeeding exchange with the Charlotte Beltway. Photo taken by Carter Buchanan (08/11/13).
The half turbine interchange (Exit 30) with Interstate 485 lies one half mile east of Sam Wilson Road. I-485 runs along the west side of Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) nearby. Photo taken by Carter Buchanan (08/11/13).
Exit 30 leads traffic to both I-485 south to I-77 near Pineville and I-77 north from Charlotte to Huntersville. Photo taken by Carter Buchanan (08/11/13).
Historic perspective from Interstate 85 north
Construction of the cloverstack joining I-85 and I-485 in western Charlotte. The exchange opened on October 19, 2004, when the beltway debuted to motorists southward to Arrowood Road (Exit 3) and Interstate 77. Photo taken 10/05/01.
Exit 30 defaulted traffic to Interstate 485 southbound until December 15, 2006, when the section north to N.C. 27 (Mount Holly Road) was finished. Photo taken 05/30/05.
Perspective from Interstate 85 south
Interstate 85 advances west from the area of Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) to meet I-485 at Exit 30. Photo taken 01/17/19.
Control points for I-485 reference Pineville, a suburb in south Charlotte located east of I-77. North of Charlotte and I-485, the town of Huntersville lies along I-77. Photo taken 01/17/19.
Exit 30B leaves Interstate 85 south for the inner loop of I-485 through northwest Charlotte near Mountain Island Lake. Photo taken 01/17/19.
A loop ramp (Exit 30A) follows from I-85 south for Interstate 485 to adjacent U.S. 29/74 (Wilkinson Boulevard) and the west side of CLT Airport. Photo taken 08/06/13.
Interstate 485 converges with I-77 at a systems interchange located just north of the South Carolina state line in ten miles. Photo taken 08/06/13.
Perspective from Interstate 485 north
Interstate 485 travels adjacent to runways at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) northward to a folded diamond interchange (Exit 9) with U.S. 29/74 (Wilkinson Boulevard). Photo taken 09/23/14.
A collector distributor departs from within the exchange at Exit 9 for Interstate 85. Photo taken 09/23/14.
U.S. 29/74 (Wilkinson Boulevard) parallel Interstate 85 east into Charlotte and west to Gastonia. Photo taken 09/23/14.
Interstate 485 proceeds north with three through lanes beyond the c/d roadway (Exit 10) for I-85 to Spartanburg, South Carolina and Greensboro. Photo taken 09/23/14.
Two lanes separate from the inner loop of I-485 for Interstate 85. The loop ramp from U.S. 29/74 merges onto the c/d roadway nearby. Photo taken 09/23/14.
Historic perspective from Interstate 485 north
Northbound Interstate 485 temporarily ended at the split of Exit 10 for I-85 in west Charlotte. Photo taken 06/22/05.
All traffic was directed to I-85 south (Exit 10B) to Gastonia and Kings Mountain until December 2006, when the enusing section of I-485 opened north to N.C. 27. Photo taken 07/12/05.
“Eastern leg of the outerbelt delayed.” Charlotte Observer (NC), August 1, 2003.
“Opening today adds 7.5 miles to eastern I-485.” Charlotte Observer (NC), September 3, 2003.
“I-485 arc takes shape.” Charlotte Observer (NC), November 20, 2003.