CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Pack your patience, the ride up Independence Boulevard is about to get... even slower.
This week, the North Carolina DOT starts preparation work for its next phase of the Independence Expressway project.
The 3 1/2-year, $51.2 million construction project will make Highway 74 an expressway without traffic lights from Albemarle Road to Wallace Lane, the same way it did from uptown to Albemarle Road a few years ago.
Sunday night, road crews started placing concrete barriers down the center median of Independence Blvd. to prevent left turns everywhere but Sharon Amity and Idlewild Roads.
Drivers will no longer be able to turn left at the following intersections:
- Wallace Lane
- Conference Drive
- Ashmore Drive
- Glendora DRive
- Charleston Drive
- Farmingdale Drive
Eventually, the Conference Drive intersection will be replaced by an interchange, followed by an interchange at Sharon Amity Road in the summer of 2015, and an Idlewild Road interchange in the summer of 2016.
While the end result will be a welcome relief to commuters, the delays won't be.
"It's horrible," said driver Aaron Meeks of traffic on Independence. It takes "three times as long as it needs to" to get anywhere, he said.
Deborah Burnett regularly drives Independence for work with her church.
"The average back in the day used to take 30 minutes from downtown to here," she recalled. "Now it's almost an hour and a half, two hours."
"It's gonna be busy, it's gonna be frustrating, but other than that," said driver Aqueela Jackson, "it needs to be done, it really needs to be done."
NC DOT estimates about 70,000 cars a day pass the Idlewild Road intersection. By 2030, DOT estimates that number will reach between 77,000 and 91,000 cars.
Businesses along the stretch of road aren't as excited. Many hung banners saying, "Business open during construction," and other similar messages.
Some of the shops stood in or near other shopping centers that showed boarded up storefronts from failed businesses during previous construction projects.
"A lot of people going 80 mph down Independence and they're not looking to the side at what's going on," said barber Pete Watkins. "They're going home, or they're going to work."
Watkins said his steady clientele would help him, but other businesses might not be so lucky.
"Restaurants might not survive on this strip right here, unless you've been for a while and people know you're here," he said.
And drivers like Burnett said she knows she'll have to add patience to her travels, along with one other thing: "A lot of U-turns," she said.
NC DOT expects this phase of the Independence project to be complete by October 2016.