Beware the afternoon rush in Charlotte over the next few days.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation is warning Charlotteans “to avoid routine travel” on the southbound lanes of Interstate 77, due to the flood of Hurricane Irma evacuees returning home to Florida.
That same warning is extended to Interstate 95 in the eastern part of the state and Interstate 26 in the west. Southbound lanes on all three interstates are seeing heavier than normal traffic, and it is expected to worsen in the next few days.
As a result, NCDOT says it has indefinitely suspended all daytime southbound lane closures for roadwork on Interstates 77, 26 and 95.
NCDOT spokesman Andrew Barksdale said it is only the southbound lanes that Charlotteans need to worry about on interstates. Interstate 85 is not included in the warning, because it takes traffic southwest, he said.
“This isn’t going to be like the flood of people who left Florida ahead of the storm, because they were all coming at the same time,” Barksdale said. “This congestion will last for days. For the time being, I’d say avoid all routine travel and running errands on 95, 77 and 26. Take an alternate route or expect the trip to take a lot longer.”
Charlotte became a destination for many Florida evacuees, who filled up local hotels over the weekend. Many began returning home Tuesday. Every uptown hotel reached by the Observer on Friday morning was completely booked on Monday and Tuesday.
By 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, electronic signs on I-77 south in Mooresville warned it would take a half-hour to get to I-485 south of Huntersville, double the normal time.
South Carolina, Georgia and Florida reported massive traffic jams on interstates Tuesday, as anxious evacuees began returning home. This was particularly true on Interstate 95, which was described as “a parking lot” in South Carolina.
At noon Tuesday, traffic volumes on I-77 south from North Carolina to Columbia and from I-26 in Columbia to I-95 were “100 percent higher than historical values,” according to the S.C. Department of Transportation. It was even worse – 150 percent higher – on I-95 south from I-26 to Georgia, the department said.
Traffic jams had already formed by mid-morning throughout Florida and southern Georgia, the Miami Herald reported.
Drivers can check which stations have fuel on their trip south at GasBuddy.com.