University City

Independence widening heads east

The loss of businesses is escalating again along Independence Boulevard as the state prepares to convert one more stretch of the highway into a freeway.

Demolitions are dramatically altering the landscape on Independence between North Sharon Amity and Idlewild roads.

Independence Office Park and a Shell/Sam's Mart gas station have been taken down on Idlewild Road.

The longstanding McDonald's restaurant has closed and is on the state's teardown list.

Demolitions at Sharon Amity so far include Bascom's Corner shopping center, the landmark old Knife and Fork restaurant, Wolf Camera and the Fred Astaire Dance Studio.

The promise of three to four years of construction, smaller parking areas and limited access to businesses during and after construction is causing some businesses to flee.

Compare Foods, at Independence and Idlewild, closed last week in expectation of the imminent 1.6-mile widening project. Retailer T.J. Maxx has announced it planned to close Jan. 14.

Many wonder about the long-term effects of removing so many businesses.

"Residents are very frustrated," said District 5 City Councilman John Autry. "The lack of services and resources impacts the quality of life."

The state's plan for this fifth, $172 million, phase of the 22-year-old freeway project calls for removing four traffic signals and widening Independence to eight lanes between North Sharon Amity and Wallace roads.

The state ultimately expects to demolish about 30 businesses and 15 residences for the project.

The widening also will claim a 10- to 15-foot strip along the front of about 100 properties in the work zone, most of them commercial.

Construction is scheduled to begin by August.

The four miles closer to uptown have been converted. More than 100 businesses were displaced or closed as the freeway moved through those areas.

Later phases are proposed to push the freeway east to Interstate 485 in Matthews.

Planners at N.C. Department of Transportation say Charlotte needs the freeway project and widening because Independence is already handling the number of cars it was designed for.

Traffic volumes are expected to grow from an annual daily average of 70,000 in 2010 to 80,000 to 90,000 in 2035, according to N.C. DOT.

Residents and business owners in east Charlotte say revitalization along the corridor must be a priority for city officials in order to keep surrounding neighborhoods strong.

The Independence Area Plan offers some viable strategies for redevelopment, Autry said.

The plan recommends putting neighborhood services along side roads and secondary thoroughfares such as Monroe Road rather than having businesses face Independence Boulevard.

The plan calls for several commercial nodes along Independence and more dense development.

"I'm busy trying to find the right private-sector folks who are willing to partner and do something," Autry said.