Are you planning to make a short trip around the Charlotte region on the Fourth of July? Or do your plans include an Independence Day outing to one of the festivals and fireworks displays Wednesday night.
If so, here are five things to consider before you leave home:
1. Watch for parades.
You know about the big one Wednesday -- the Shriners Parade at 2:30 p.m. in uptown. But there are many parades in other towns, and you might find yourself stuck in traffic if you dont plan ahead. For example, East W.T. Harris Boulevard will be closed for the annual Hickory Grove Parade at 10:30 a.m. There are parades in places like Waxhaw (9 a.m.), Harrisburg (9 a.m.), Waxhaw (10 a.m.), Connelly Springs (10 a.m.), Matthews (6:30 p.m.) and Lincolnton (8 p.m.). And there are more.
2. Bring a blanket, not a cooler.
Planning to attend the Center City July 4th Spectacular in uptown? Youre reminded that Memorial Stadium renovations mean that only the lower level of seating is available. So if you hope to sit at the stadium and watch the fireworks, bring a blanket and sit on the field. Oh ... coolers and pre-packaged food are not permitted inside the stadium.
3. Slow down.
The N.C. Highway Patrol is reminding motorists to slow down. There will be extra police patrol on interstate and other major highways. Speed is the No.1 factor in fatal collisions, and our troopers will be looking for aggressive drivers, drunk drivers, and other violators, said Col. Michael Gilchrist, commander of the N.C. Highway Patrol.
4. Plan ahead.
Fireworks displays in the smaller towns and cities -- Monroe, Lincolnton, Waxhaw, Harrisburg, Kings Mountain, and so on -- will create traffic snarls there.
But the biggest traffic headaches are likely to be along the I-77 corridor from uptown Charlotte to Fort Mill. There are four major fireworks displays in that area -- uptown, Carowinds, Knights Castle in Fort Mill, and at the Buster Boyd Bridge on Lake Wylie.
The N.C. Department of Transportation will be helping direct traffic in uptown. The right two lanes on the outer loop of the John Belk Freeway will be reserved for traffic leaving the uptown fireworks show. The best idea: Stay off the John Belk Freeway tonight, unless youre using it to leave the uptown fireworks show.
The S.C. Highway Patrol will direct traffic at the other sites. If youre going to the Lake Wylie show, no parking is permitted on the Buster Boyd Bridge.
The N.C. and S.C. Departments of Transportation will use overhead signs and portable message signs to help guide motorists attending the Knights Castle and Carowinds shows. Travel lanes on Carowinds Boulevard will be altered after the show, so pay attention to signs and to police who are directing traffic.
5. Watch the weather.
If youre headed out to a daytime event, drink plenty of water and use sunscreen. Temperatures will approach 100 degrees Wednesday. But watch for thunderstorms Wednesday night. Meteorologists dont expect coverage to be as widespread as Sunday night, but any storms that develop could contain dangerous lightning, very heavy rain, and damaging wind gusts. If you have a weather app loaded on your cell phone, watch the radar.