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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

Can Charlotte's Traffic Woes Be Solved By Elon Musk?

Traffic Tunnel
Eduardo Goody
Can a traffic tunnel created by a company founded by Elon Musk be the solution to Charlotte's eternal traffic woes?

During a Charlotte City Council meeting this week, council member Tariq Bokhari floated an unusual idea to deal with Charlotte's congested roadways: building new streets underneath the city's busiest intersections. To help with this, Bokhari suggested the city reach out to Elon Musk, the CEO of the companies Tesla and SpaceX.

For more, we turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

Marshall Terry: Tony, why is Bokhari suggesting Musk is the man for this job?

Tony Mecia: Marshall, you know, Charlotte traffic is one of those intractable kind of problems that's sort of been around for a long time. And that might sound sort of like an odd idea because people know of Elon Musk as the CEO of Tesla and of SpaceX, but he also has another venture called The Boring Company. Not "boring" in terms of not exciting, but boring in terms of "digging." And what it does is it's developed these technologies to dig underneath cities and to have high-speed electric vehicle tunnels underneath those cities.

So Councilman Bokhari is suggesting that maybe Charlotte explore that a little bit. You know, there's bad traffic all over Charlotte. It sort of came up in the context of a discussion of traffic on Providence Road, which is one of the most congested four-lane corridors in the city. And Musk and The Boring Company are doing this in other places. They have a test facility in Los Angeles. They're working on a couple of projects in Las Vegas. Working on permitting for a tunnel between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Miami and Fort Lauderdale are also interested. So it's not completely out of thin air — but certainly a lot of details left to resolve.

Terry: Yeah, just how realistic is it that Charlotte could take this approach?

Mecia: If we're being honest, it probably sounds a little far-fetched and futuristic at this point. A lot of issues potentially to resolve — chief among them, most of the places where The Boring Company has done this, it's been on sort of longer stretches of tunnels, not necessarily under intersections. We talked to some experts in both traffic and engineering who say there are a whole bunch of question marks as far as utility lines, design. I mean, there are a bunch of logistical things like that so I wouldn't necessarily lay money on the fact that this is going to happen — and certainly not anytime soon. But it's sort of in the category of a creative idea of maybe how to address what is sort of a difficult and thorny problem.

Terry: Well, staying on the subject of traffic for a second, the Ledger found this week that pre-pandemic traffic levels are returning to normal in Charlotte. Does that mean more people are going back into the office, then?

Mecia: Well, I think you are starting to see some people go back into the office. I think it's probably being driven, so to speak, a little bit more by an increase in activities. Schools are now starting to head back to normal levels. There was a company called INRIX that looks at traffic data by using cell phone location data. And what they determined is that Charlotte is just about back 100% to where it was pre-pandemic. It had fallen off by about half a few months into the pandemic when everybody was locked down. But it's gradually returned. And now it's probably no surprise to anybody who's driven around town, those traffic levels are back up to where they used to be.

Traihead District.png
Courtesy The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter
The new "Trailhead District" north of NoDa is already attracting several new arts groups.

Terry: Often on this program, we talk about the next hot development areas in Charlotte and you report there is a new one now to add to that list -- and it's the area just north of NoDa.

Mecia: Yeah, Marshall, you know, we're seeing this all over the city, as the city grows and expands, you're seeing a lot of redevelopment areas. And we went in closely looking at the area north of NoDa off of Sugar Creek. The Flywheel Group, which is a developer, owns a bunch of land there. They're working with the Charlotte Art League and some arts organizations to create an art hub. This is right by the Sugar Creek light rail stop. And you're starting to see apartments and condos move that way, sort of as Noda expands to the north. It's definitely going that direction.

Terry: So is this still going to be called NoDa? Or have marketers come up with a new name for this neighborhood?

Mecia: Well, developers always like to come up with new branding a lot of times for these neighborhoods. The Flywheel Group has started calling it the Trailhead District. The Cross Charlotte Trail is going to kind of cut through this area, it's going to be sort of like the Rail Trail is in South End -- you know, wide sidewalks, people can walk and walk their dogs, that sort of thing. So it's definitely, I think, hoping to add on to some of these other neighborhood names that we've seen -- LoSo (Lower South End), FreeMore West at Freedom Drive and Morehead, the Gold District, MoRa. You have all these sort of names that people don't necessarily know what they are, but developers keep coming out with them.

Terry: Finally, Tony, last week we talked about domestic violence charges against the CEO of Charlotte's Sonic Automotive and now you have an update to report on that case.

Mecia: Yes, this concerns Sonic Automotive CEO David Smith, son of Bruton Smith. A lot of people know that the Smith family, business family, in the Charlotte area. David Smith was charged in October with four counts related to domestic violence, including one felony. A grand jury indicted him a couple of weeks ago. But just last week, the DA's office dropped the charges. They said they did not have confidence that they could prove their case at trial. So they dropped the charges against David Smith and that ends the case.

Terry: All right, Tony, thank you.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.

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