Each day in Charlotte, people willingly decide to pull off of Interstate 277 North and descend into the whirlpool of exit 3A with a seemingly simple mission: to turn right.
Some people literally hold in their breath. In a space of 200 feet — less than a football field — they’ll attempt to hop like Frogger over three lanes to make a right turn onto North Davidson Street. Meanwhile, in their passenger’s-side blind spot, anxious drivers from 12th street want to trade lanes with them in order to slide onto 277.
Most often patience prevails. Or maybe it’s a mutual understanding of the other’s plight. Other times, though, someone ends up with a dent.
The exit was the scene of at least 27 accidents in the 12-month period from October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019, according to North Carolina Department of Transportation statistics. A DOT representative told the Agenda that it’s important to note, though, that many crashes go unreported. “This report simply provides a summary of all crashes on record,” traffic safety project engineer Lee Cowhig said.
Regardless of the number of accidents, many drivers feel like they’re next when they take a trip through 3A.
“Have your will in place because the likelihood of your demise is high depending on the time of day,” Brittney H. told the Agenda.
Sarah Spitler said, “The feeling before you head towards that exit, and the little, quick breath you take, is literally the same feeling I get before jumping off waterfalls in Boone. Terror and adrenaline and ‘Why did I agree to do this?'”
A change to the dreaded 3A exit will likely happen — but it’ll be years from now.
Charlotte’s transportation department will submit improvement plans for the interchange to NCDOT, with the hopes of having it included in the 2022-2032 State Transportation Improvement Program. STIP, as it’s known, is a 10-year forecast for construction projects in North Carolina that will require funding.
We’ll find out in 2021 if 3A is part of the next STIP.
Once plans are submitted, NCDOT will rank it through a formal prioritization process. Keep in mind, NCDOT considers thousands of projects submitted from across the state — for the 2020-2029 period 1,718 were selected.
NCDOT has plenty of headaches. Hurricanes Matthew and Florence were two of the costliest storms in state history, and they hit just two years apart, Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018. Also in 2016 after the state Supreme Court declared a law allowing NCDOT to reserve land for future highways unconstitutional, NCDOT has been forced to pay $366 million settling lawsuits with property owners, according to a News & Observer story last week.
The General Assembly last week approved a bill that will allocate $200 million to help NCDOT navigate financial troubles, the N&O reported.
The Charlotte Department of Transportation says that if the plan is approved, the interchanges on 277 would be updated in three chunks: the Kenilworth exit to the 12th/Davidson exit, Brookshire Freeway to Graham, and Belk Freeway to Caldwell.
Scierra N. Bratton, a media relations specialist for CDOT, says there’s no guarantee the scope of work for exit 3A will actually get included in the 2022-2032 STIP. Even if it does, there’s no way to know when construction would start, and the work may not even happen within that 10-year window, she added.
The city has plenty of other big transportation projects on the table for the next decade, including a possible east-west light rail that would run from Gaston County to Matthews.
Regardless, the city knows that the interchange at 3A is a problem.
“The City and the NCDOT do acknowledge that the Brookshire and Belk Freeways have capacity and operational challenges, including weaving between and at access points,” Bratton said.
With the continuing development going on in the hot neighborhoods of NoDa and Villa Heights, inevitably, the 3A situation will only become more congested before any work to provide relief can begin.
“I hold my breath and hope for the best every single time,” one driver said. Then she called it a “deathtrap.”