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It’s a summer of road closures for Charlotte drivers

A portion of Central Avenue in Plaza Midwood is closed this week. Next week, a part of downtown Matthews will be inaccessible.

And the freeway conversion project on East Independence Boulevard is moving from proposal to reality, with lanes being diverted and side streets shut down.

Clearly, Charlotte-area motorists will need to pack an extra dose of patience with them on trips around town this summer.

CSX Railroad is doing maintenance at nearly two dozen crossings in Mecklenburg County over the next month, including this week’s project that has shut down Central Avenue between Hawthorne Lane and Pecan Avenue, and next week’s work on East Trade Street in Matthews.

It means lengthy detours for motorists on some heavily-traveled roads, but all that pales in comparison to the Independence Boulevard project, where two years of work is getting underway.

“Now motorists are starting to get an idea of what’s ahead,” said Steve Abbott, of the N.C. Department of Transportation.

At a $51 million price tag, the state will convert Independence from a divided highway to an expressway from Sharon Amity Road to near Wallace Lane, east of Idlewild Road. The project is scheduled for completion in October 2016, but between now and then it means disruptions for the 70,000 or so motorists who use that section of the road each day.

Crews began installing barrier walls on the outbound lanes late Sunday night and early Monday. The work will continue nightly until the walls extend to Conference Drive. Next week, the same work will take place on the inbound lanes.

The barrier walls will prevent motorists from making left turns onto Independence from a number of side streets along the length of the project, but the biggest impact will be at Conference Drive, which connects Independence to Monroe Road at East Mecklenburg High.

Conference Drive is used daily by thousands of Mecklenburg County and Union County motorists as a connector from Monroe Road to Independence Boulevard. During the morning commute, the traffic signal at Independence and Conference Drive produces lengthy backups.

But once the outbound barrier walls are in place this week, Conference Drive motorists no longer will have access to inbound Independence Boulevard. And next Monday, the DOT plans to shut down Conference Drive to outbound motorists, too, so construction crews can stage equipment there for the freeway conversion.

The Conference Drive closure means thousands of motorists each day will have to use Sardis Road North, Village Lake Drive, Idlewild Road, or Sharon Amity Road as a connector to Independence Boulevard.

There is good news, however.

“When the walls are up, there will only be two traffic signals – at Idlewild Road and Sharon Amity Road – for Independence Boulevard motorists between Margaret Wallace Road and the freeway,” said Jennifer Thompson, also of the state DOT.

When the project is completed in 2016, the light at Harris Boulevard will be the last for inbound motorists. Ramps will be installed at Idlewild and Sharon Amity roads.

“It’s gonna be busy, it’s gonna be frustrating, but other than that, it needs to be done,” driver Aqueela Jackson told WCNC-TV, the Observer’s news partner. “It really needs to be done.”

The rail crossing work is a short-term issue.

Motorists who use Central Avenue are being forced to detour through neighborhoods or follow the official detour – the Plaza, Parkwood Avenue and Hawthorne Lane – for the rest of this week.

Then CSX Railroad crews will close the crossing on East Trade Street in Matthews next Monday, through June 28.

“Traffic will need to detour around the East Trade Street crossing and the Matthews downtown area,” said Matthews spokeswoman Annette Privette Keller.

Keller says it’s part of a major repair project that involves replacing aging rails and tracks.

“It has been at least nine years since the railroad has done this extensive repair work at the crossing,” she said.

And then CSX crews will move to a number of other Charlotte crossings during July 1 to July 8. Those crossings will be closed from six to eight hours at a time, and officials say the railroad will not be able to give much advance notice, because it’s difficult to know how long the various projects will take to complete.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107
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