Commuting through the University City area is about to get a little worse.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation plans to close Old Concord Road, from Branch Hill Circle to Farmfield Lane, for 270 days starting March 15 for continued work on a grade separation and highway improvement project.
The more than 15,000 vehicles per day that use the University City thoroughfare will be rerouted to already clogged roads affected by multiple infrastructure improvement projects, including the Blue Line Extension along North Tryon Street.
The closure of Old Concord Road is part of the $13.7 million Grier Road Grade Separation project, which began about 13 months ago. N.C. DOT plans to build a new highway bridge that will carry Grier Road traffic over the North Carolina Railroad tracks on the Mecklenburg/Cabarrus County border, according to the N.C. DOT.
Motorists will be detoured along Orr Road, North Tryon Street and University City and Harris boulevards.
At a community meeting March 10, residents of Autumnwood, off Rocky River Road West, reported seeing only a single, recently-posted warning sign about the closing beside Newell-Hickory Grove Road.
Old Concord Road is heavily traveled during rush hours, so the closing may lead to more cut-through traffic in Autumnwood, resident said, as well as increased congestion on North Tryon Street, already affected by construction work on the Blue Line light rail project.
Residents said they’d make the best of it. “We can’t do anything about it,” said Autumnwood Association President John Neilson.
N.C. DOT also will close the at-grade railroad crossing at Newell-Hickory Grove Road. Planned projects also will add roadway improvements along Old Concord Road, Orr Road, Grierview Lane, Branch Hill Circle, Lauren Village Drive and Farmfield Lane.
This all stems from work to improve the Harrisburg to Charlotte rail corridor, one of the busiest sections of railroad in North Carolina, according to N.C. DOT. The new bridge will reduce the risk of automobile/train collisions, improve safety and reduce congestion caused by rail delays, the department has said.
Construction began in February 2014 and is slightly more than 30 percent complete, said Department of Transportation resident Engineer Eric “Nat” Hunter. He expects the project to be finished in early 2016.
Current work will focus on grading and construction for the railroad, he said, and upcoming work will focus on grading and embankment construction to raise Old Concord Road for the future Grier Road bridge.
The Federal Railroad Administration awarded the state a $545 million grant in 2010 to pay for the improvements. The Grier Road project is part of the Piedmont Improvement Program, which is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the federal stimulus program approved in 2009.
The Piedmont Improvement Plan aims to modernize the state’s railways to make train travel safer and more reliable, improve job growth and commercial development and better connect communities from Raleigh to Charlotte.
City Councilman Greg Phipps, who represents District 4 including University City, said the area is one of the busiest in Charlotte, especially in terms of transportation projects.
Work along the North Tryon corridor and the high-speed rail line beside Old Concord Road has caused hundreds of trees to be cut down and created traffic delays and congestion, but officials say that, ultimately, the work will reap long-term benefits.
“Old Concord Road as we knew it, with its lush tree canopy, will be totally transformed with much improved accessibility and connectivity,” Phipps said. “While construction thus far has been a distraction, the road closure will no doubt give way to a higher level of traffic congestion and frustration.”
Phipps, who travels the area daily and lives close to the work taking place, said he’s grateful for the infrastructure projects and the investment they bring to his district.
“It is good for Charlotte,” Phipps said. “We are finally seeing the type of infrastructure investment that has eluded us for many years.”
Correspondent Don Boekelheide contributed.
An interactive map of rail and road projects in northeast Mecklenburg County can be seen online at http://bit.ly/1kPdK99. The map shows active projects by year.