The commute to uptown Charlotte is causing a lot more headaches this week than normal.
On Monday night, the North Carolina Department of Transportation closed off one lane of Interstate 277 as part of a $16.3 million project to rehab 22 bridges in the I-277 corridor between Tenth Street and I-77 at the John Belk Freeway.
Traffic has been reduced to one line on the inner loop, causing massive traffic congestion and clogging up smaller roadways as commuters take alternate routes.
Relief may be in sight for this particular slowdown, though.
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Although the overall I-277 project is slated to be competed in July 2019, the current closure on the interstate is only supposed to be in place through Dec. 21, according to NCDOT Charlotte-based spokeswoman Jen Thompson.
“If work is finished sooner, the closure will be lifted. If the work is not completed by that date, then the contractor will have to wait until after the holidays to resume operations,” Thompson said in an email.
On its website, the NCDOT said that the current traffic pattern on I-277 will be in place 24/7 while crews remove concrete slabs and install an epoxy overlay on bridges over Elizabeth Avenue, Third Street and Fourth Street. “These improvements will create a better riding surface for drivers,” according to the department.
As the contractor works in various parts along I-277 heading toward the I-77 interchange at the John Belk end, each work area could require temporary ramp or lane closures, Thompson said. Barriers walls may be installed if necessary at some parts.
“The department will work with the contractor to minimize impacts to traffic as much as possible,” she added.
A number of other roadway construction problems are exacerbating Charlotte’s current traffic issues.
Independence Boulevard (US-74), for instance, is nearing the end of a $51 million, six-year project to turn 1.6 miles of the road into a multi-lane expressway. Parts of the roadway have been closed off amid construction, including currently the left lane of US-74 West approaching I-277. Meanwhile, as part of the Interstate 77 toll express lanes project, the outer loop of the Brookshire Freeway ramp to I-77 southbound in uptown is closed as a new bridge is constructed, according to TV channel WSOC.
Although construction-related traffic makes many commuters late for work, studies have shown that congestion is actually indicative of a healthy economy. According to a 2012 City Lab analysis, for instance, every 10 percent increase in traffic delay per person was associated with a 3.4 percent increase in per capita GDP. In other words, congestion indicates that there’s a demand for travel because people are working.