Sometime later this week, state highway engineers working on the Independence Boulevard expressway conversion project will close a major intersection and change the way tens of thousands of motorists get to and from work each day.
The new Conference Drive bridge will open over East Independence Boulevard, but crews also will close a portion of Idlewild Road near Independence. That will prevent motorists from crossing Independence Boulevard on Idlewild Road and will change the way they turn from one road to the other.
“We expect to make the changes late in the week,” said Nat Hunter, resident engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation project.
Idlewild Road is being closed so crews can begin the job of building a bridge over Independence Boulevard – a job that is expected to take at least 18 months. The same thing will happen, probably early next year, on Sharon Amity Road.
“When all the work is done, there will be three new bridges on Independence – Conference Drive, Idlewild Road and Sharon Amity Road,” said Jen Thompson, a spokeswoman for the DOT.
First, the good news.
Opening the Conference Drive bridge will give pedestrians – including East Mecklenburg High School students who live on the opposite side of Independence – a more convenient way to cross Independence Boulevard.
In the past year, since the Conference Drive intersection with Independence was closed, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have dealt with numerous incidents of students trying to cross the six-lane highway outside a crosswalk.
“We’ll work on making sure students use that new bridge,” East Mecklenburg Principal Rick Parker said.
Instead of intersecting with Independence Boulevard, the new Conference Drive will cross over Independence and end at Idlewild Road.
The new route for Conference Drive and the closing of Idlewild at Independence will present some problems.
Motorists who use Idlewild Road as a through route – to reach Monroe Road, for example – will have to detour. They will have to make a left turn at the new Conference Drive and follow the bridge over Independence, reaching Monroe Road in front of East Mecklenburg High.
According to 2012 figures from the Department of Transportation, about 21,000 motorists a day cross over Independence on Idlewild Road or make a turn there.
In addition to reopening Conference Drive, the DOT will open a new ramp that is an extension of Conference Drive, from Idlewild Road to Independence Boulevard. That ramp will handle motorists turning from inbound Idlewild Road to Independence, and outbound drivers on Independence who want to turn left onto Idlewild Road and head toward Matthews and Mint Hill.
“There currently are barriers on the outbound side of Independence where the intersection with the new ramp will be,” Hunter said. “We’ll remove those and use the current (left) turn lane.”
Also affected are the smaller number of motorists who turn from Independence Boulevard (in either direction) onto Idlewild Road headed toward Monroe Road. They won’t be able to make that turn until the new overpass is finished.
“They will have to use the new Conference Drive or take another route, possibly Sharon Amity Road,” Thompson said.
One person happy to see the changes is Roy Goode, developer of Meridian Place, a 20-acre multi-use development at Conference Drive and Monroe Road. Goode’s residential and commercial community replaced an aging low-income apartment complex. The new Conference Drive opens access from Meridian Place to Idlewild Road and Independence Boulevard.
“We are thrilled with the progress of these road improvements and the momentum being created in this area,” Goode said. “The vision for this area has started to be realized.”