University City

University City drivers see orange as roadwork drags on

Charlotte Department of Transportation Engineer Matt Magnasco has a clear vision of what life will look like in University City for the next couple of years: “There’s going to be a lot of orange barrels.”

Magnasco joined representatives from other state and local agencies for an informational Town Hall meeting on local transportation construction projects, hosted by Charlotte City Council District 4 Representative Greg Phipps, on May 20 at the Oasis Shriners Hall near UNC Charlotte.

About 40 people heard presenters affirm what University City residents already know: Construction on dozens of different local road and transportation projects is causing traffic congestion and inconvenience.

Phipps said the results of the projects will be worth the pain.

“Have patience,” Phipps said. “On the other side, we will see a very transformative situation. When this is done, we aren’t going to recognize Tryon Street.”

Several agencies are involved in managing the construction, with key players being CDOT, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Blue Line Extension Project.

Phipps’ large district extends from the Hidden Valley neighborhood along North Tryon to Highland Creek on the Cabarrus County line. University City is the current epicenter of development, particularly along Tryon Street from UNCC to Eastway Boulevard, where work on three separate groups of major projects – the Blue Line light rail project; related road-improvement projects involving Interstate 85 and side roads including Rocky River Road West; and rail-related construction along Old Concord Road – are underway in close proximity.

Police and fire officials have their hands full coping with the construction.

“We are seeing lots of traffic” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Capt. Rob Dance of the North Tryon Division. “I’m listening to classical music to keep my blood pressure down.”

“A minor bump can create major delays,” Dance said.

Police said they are taking proactive measures to minimize problems, including regular reviews of stoplight time, increased police presence including motorcycles, and weekly meetings between construction firms and police to coordinate their work, a policy that started about eight weeks ago, according to CMPD Capt. Todd Garrett.

Residents at the meeting complained about an increase in panhandlers and informal solicitors in construction zones. Garrett said he enforces a “no-tolerance” policy and told attendees to call 911 to report violations.

Not all the news was bad, however; Dance and Garrett said some crime is down along the Blue Line construction corridor, including a 25 percent drop in hit-and-runs and fewer pedestrian injuries.

The situation is likely to remain problematic, speakers agreed. A contributing factor is the fact that as one project reaches completion, another starts, creating a new set of problems for commuters and residents.

For example, Eastway Drive is now closed for bridge construction, Garrett said. When it reopens, possibly this summer, Sugar Creek Road will close for bridge construction there.

N.C. DOT District 10 Director of Outreach and Community Affairs Warren Cooksey said construction of rail improvements along Old Concord Road must remain on a fast track due to a strict federal deadline requiring work to be complete by 2017.

A familiar face to Charlotteans, Cooksey formerly served as a Charlotte City Council member representing District 7.

Cooksey said Old Concord Road will reopen at the end of 2015 and reported there currently are no plans to move ahead on another railroad bridge project, called the Eastern Circumferential, near UNC Charlotte.

Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Don? Email him at Unicity3@gmail.com.

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