Work starts on major I-77 bridge near Charlotte with goal of solving traffic mess

·2 min read

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in an occasional series of articles about congested and often dangerous Charlotte-area intersections and why they haven’t been fixed. Know of one? Send an email to Joe Marusak at jmarusak@charlotteobserver.com.

Reconstruction of a major bridge over Interstate 77 north of Charlotte started this week.

Once complete, the work should relieve longstanding traffic woes in the north Mecklenburg town of Huntersville, state and town officials said.

Also good news for drivers: the state transportation department expects few if any daytime closures as Blythe Development crews reconfigure the bridge built decades ago at Gilead Road’s Exit 23, NCDOT spokeswoman Jen Thompson said Wednesday.

“All travel lanes will remain open” for the expected several-years’ duration of the work, she said.

The exit leads to U.S. 21 and downtown Huntersville to the east and to Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center, The Park-Huntersville and numerous restaurants and other retailers to the west.

Blythe Development also will fix the notoriously bottle-necked Gilead Road-U.S. 21 intersection as part of a separate project: Improving Gilead Road from Reese Road near to just east of Marguerite Lane, and on U.S. 21 from Huntersville Commons to south of Dallas Street, Thompson said.

The bridge and Gilead Road contracts total $30.8 million, she said.

‘Diverging diamond’ plans

The bridge is getting a “diverging diamond” interchange design that has cleared traffic messes elsewhere in the Carolinas and other states over the past decade, including I-77 Cornelius Exit 28 at Lake Norman, the Observer previously reported.

Traffic flows better with the design because drivers no longer stack up at lights where the highway exit ramps meet the main road. Drivers on the main road no longer have to stop at lights before heading onto the interstate. Such bridges still have traffic lights, but they’re moved elsewhere on the span to reduce congestion.

Diverging diamond interchanges take less time to complete because the design is simply laid out on the existing bridge in most cases. The rebuilt interchanges often open to traffic in a year or less from the start of construction.

Because Exit 23 is essentially getting two projects, it will take a couple of more years to open, officials said. The expected opening for both projects is April 2025, Huntersville spokeswoman Kim Strickland said.

Bridge work begins

Construction that started this week at the bridge involves converting it into the diverging diamond, Thompson said.

“The existing bridge will be a component of the construction,” Thompson said in an email to the Observer.

Over three weeks, crews will install a safety barrier, remove guardrails and high-mast lighting, add a fence to capture silt and create a drainage basin.

Major construction will begin in the spring, according to Thompson.

U.S. 21-Gilead Road intersection improvements will include making drivers who want to turn left instead continue through the intersection to a U-turn lane, town officials said.

The bridge and intersection projects are being done at the same time, Kevin Garton, construction engineer for the town of Huntersville, told the Observer this week.

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