Tim Long’s recent post on Charlotte Agenda about the appearance of Independence Boulevard inspired me to share my perspective. …
In 1996 I was a second year student at UNC Chapel Hill. In addition to learning how to do keg stands that fall, I also learned to tap dance for the role as Mike in A Chorus Line produced by Company Carolina. Ah, the memories! A touring production of A Chorus Line came to Ovens Auditorium that December and a group of us drove down to see it. After the show we drove to Shoney’s for a late dinner before heading back to Chapel Hill. As I left the restaurant, a driver rear-ended me at a stoplight (yeah, there were still stoplights on Indy then). It was late. There weren’t a lot of people around. This was before cell phones. It was also before that section of Independence Blvd was a freeway. I was able to play a game of real-life Frogger and make my way across the road to a pay phone at the Coliseum Shopping Center to dial 911. It took forever for the police to arrive but not as long as it’s taken NC DOT to figure out Independence Blvd. (As an aside, my only other major car accident in my life was also on Independence Blvd – a little old lady was driving down the ramp from Albemarle Road the wrong way on a Sunday morning on the way to church. I was headed to the yoga class I was teaching in a super-cute Miata. …but that’s another story.)
In the time since then, that section of Independence was widened and a dedicated bus lane was installed in the middle. As a result of protests from businesses and residents access was retained to the shopping center and side streets but it’s a hazard to turn in and pull out of those spots with traffic zooming by at 60 MPH. The strip shopping centers aren’t apparently deep enough to accommodate more modern development when you take into account the NC DOT right of way. Also, the residential neighborhoods behind the commercial strip aren’t keen to provide access through their neighborhoods. It’s a tug of war and no one is winning but everyone is tired.
Walmart’s new store at Independence and Albemarle was supposed to spark revitalization of that commercial strip. There’s even an access road stub in the Walmart parking lot. The recession probably put a damper on any progress there. There’s been talk of an indoor golf range among other projects but nothing has materialized yet. On the other side of the street the Shoney’s I visited 20 years ago is boarded up and has a collapsed roof – just like the neighboring properties. It sure would be nice if the City of Charlotte would make the owners tear down those decaying buildings.
Work on widening and removing intersections from Sharon Amity to Conference Drive has progressed at an amazingly slow rate. It has been interesting to see how the car dealerships have responded. While the main lighted intersections will be removed, this section of Independence will retain driveway access to commercial properties.
It is hard to measure the opportunity cost of the poor and slow implementation of these infrastructure projects. There are many forces at work. However, what is clear is that east Charlotte has not seen the kind of investment and boom that has occurred in other parts of Charlotte. The construction and lack of clarity on long-term transit investments created a barrier. Investors want a sure bet.
Rather than being an asset to our area bringing access to thousands of shoppers and providing easy access to commercial development, the decades-long dithering on Independence is a scar that has deep economic impacts on our City and region.