For six months, cars used Charleston Drive as a detour to get on Independence Boulevard during construction.
Now, the interchange construction is over, but thousands of car are still trying to pass through the neighborhood of four dead-end streets and 69 houses.
The N.C. Department of Transportation started a $51.2 million project in April 2013 to turn a 1.6 mile stretch of Independence into an expressway, including building an interchange at Sharon Amity Road. The stretch of Independence Boulevard under construction has about 70,000 cars each day, and NCDOT said this number could rise to 91,000 by 2030.
When the interchange construction first started, NCDOT routed cars through Charleston Drive to get onto Independence Boulevard from Sharon Amity Road – and also to get onto Sharon Amity from Independence.
Never miss a local story.
But drivers still try to cut through the Charleston Drive neighborhood even though the route is blocked.
For drivers who take Sharon Amity with the intent to get onto Independence Boulevard – either out of habit or because their GPS directed them that way – they find their path blocked on Charleston Drive by a concrete barrier. The same goes for drivers who exit Independence onto Charleston Drive trying to get to Sharon Amity.
Here’s what some drivers do when they find it’s blocked: Some turn around and go back the way they came. Some continue into the neighborhood trying to turn around. Drivers have knocked over mailboxes.
And for others the barrier doesn’t matter. They cut across yards to get around it.
Residents unhappy with continued traffic after the project was completed complained to NCDOT.
In response, NCDOT added “no outlet” and “road closed” signs and hired a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer to sit at the intersection of Sharon Amity and Charleston Drive.
Residents say cars tear up yards, knock over trash cans and even take down power poles. One resident, John Williford, said a truck damaged garden boxes he’d given his wife for their anniversary.
Will Hodges, who has lived on Charleston Drive since 2002, said people are worried about their kids playing in the neighborhood because of how many cars pass through and how fast they go through the neighborhood.
“It is like living on a highway,” Hodges said.
Hodges said that in 30 minutes he has counted 300 cars turn around in the neighborhood once they realize it is a dead end street despite “no outlet” signs posted. He said conditions have been horrendous for six months.
“It was never supposed to last as long as this,” he said.
Residents say the solution is easy: permanently close the connection between Charleston Drive and Independence Boulevard. Drivers on Independence can still exit onto Charleston Drive but face the concrete barrier before reaching the neighborhood’s homes.
“We will use the $7 million bridge,” Hodges said.
Thompson said they could consider closing the road in the future, but it would be a joint decision with the city. She said she hopes the new signs and police presence will ease the traffic.
“It is basically adjusting driver behavior right now,” Thompson said.
Resident Cheryl Roberge said as soon as the CMPD patrol car leaves, the traffic is significantly worse.
Hodges said he doubts if the police presence is making a difference since numerous cars and tractor trailers are still allowed into the neighborhood, where they cause damage and occasionally traffic wrecks.
Roberge said she and other neighbors have reached out to NCDOT about their concerns but aren’t getting responses anymore. She has tried putting up her own signs and barriers, but drivers do not respond. She said on the weekends or during rush hour, she can count up to 2,000 cars coming through the neighborhood.
“This has been a nightmare,” she said.
Jamie Gwaltney: 704-358-5612, @jamielgwaltney