Residents of Autumnwood and Old Concord neighborhoods near UNCCharlotte breathed a collective sign of relief this month when the N.C. Department of Transportation reopened an important access road.
Farmfield Lane at Old Concord Road opened to traffic Aug. 14 after being closed since June. In a news release, NCDOT said crews had “worked diligently to reopen the road before school starts.”
Farmfield Lane was a key entrance to Autumnwood and Old Concord subdivisions, particularly for UNCC Charlotte faculty and staff who live in these neighborhoods close to campus. The closure left only a single way in and out: steep and narrow Rockland Drive. It also routed all traffic along quiet, residential Autumnwood Lane. Since the closure, Autumnwood residents have complained about littering, unsafe walking conditions, noise and increased traffic.
The new location of Newell Elementary, which opened for the school year Aug. 24 on Rocky River Road West, would have created further congestion at the intersection of Rockland Drive.
“It’s good to have the second entrance and exit again,” said Autumnwood resident Evelyn Bickley, whose family lives on Autumnwood Lane. Pointing out that a tree fell during a recent storm, blocking Rockland Drive and cutting power, Bickley said, “I was so thankful it fell on the far side of Blue Rock Drive, or we all would have been trapped.”
The Farmfield Lane opening does not affect the closing of Old Concord Road between Newell-Hickory Grove Road and Orr Road. Before NCDOT closed the road in mid-March, Old Concord Road served as a popular alternative route to University City Boulevard and Tryon Street, now subject to backups because of light rail construction. Old Concord Road is scheduled to re-open in December.
Both the Farmfield Lane and Old Concord Road closings are part of a railroad construction project adding a second track and other improvements to permit high-speed rail service between Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta and other cities. The second track is now visible from the intersection of Old Concord Road and Farmfield Lane. A new vehicle bridge over the improved tracks at Grier Road will enable NCDOT to close the current grade crossing at Newell-Hickory Grove Road and Old Concord Road.
Although NCDOT has plans for bike and pedestrian improvements on Old Concord Road near the Grier bridge, the new section of Old Concord Road near Farmfield Lane is hazardous for bicycles, because of elimination of the road shoulder and installation of a highway-style metal road barrier that blocks a cyclist’s ability to avoid a car.
The June closing of Farmfield Lane was controversial because it caught residents by surprise. NCDOT did not discuss it with the public during hearings about construction of the high-speed rail project along Old Concord Road, and NCDOT managers approved the additional closure without public input, in response to a request from contractor Blythe Development. Autumnwood president John Neilson complained to Charlotte DOT and to City Council representative Greg Phipps, but the closure went ahead. .
Originally, Blythe requested 150 days for the Farmfield Lane closure, but completed the work in approximately 90 days, according to NCDOT data.
Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org