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Charlotte Area

Light Rail Extension Backs Up Traffic; City Takes Action

Crystal Hogue

It's been five months since the light rail extension debuted in north Charlotte. The $1.2 billion project was heralded as the future of Charlotte transportation and a step toward avoiding traffic congestion. But some drivers say the extension has made traffic worse, particularly along North Tryon Street. 

Drivers have reported excessively long traffic lights near the end of the line by UNC Charlotte, and the city has struggled to stop drivers from damaging the light rail crossing arms, which have only caused more headaches when crews have to repair them.

Ruzlan Quevedo, a manager of a Papa John's on North Tryon Street, says his delivery drivers have regularly had to wait between 10 - 20 minutes to turn left from North Tryon Street into the shopping center where the pizza place is located.

"It not only affects the drivers, it affects the customers as well," the manager said, "They have to wait longer for the food to arrive. If the driver needs to sit for 20 minutes at a light, that's extra time. That's the pizza getting cold."

Drivers have filed complaints with the city saying they've waited in left-hand turning lanes on North Tryon Street for 10 - 15 minutes as multiple trains rolled by. Others have taken to social media to complain. "North Tryon ... throw all the train intersections in the trash," one user groused on Twitter.

The complaints began to surface almost as soon as the light rail extension opened. Spectrum News ran a story on March 23 - one week after the extension's opening - detailing similar complaints about poor traffic-light timing along the extension.

Since WFAE brought the complaints to the attention of the Charlotte Department of Transporation, the department says it has been retiming traffic signals along North Tryon Street from Eastway Drive to Institute Circle, including left turns from North Tryon Street.

"With the construction of the Blue Line Extension, it was anticipated that some traffic, including left turns from North Tryon Street, would experience longer delays than observed before the light rail," a department spokesperson said. "If there is a concern regarding a specific intersection along North Tryon Street, please contact 311 and concerns will be investigated."

Meanwhile, the city continues working to prevent drivers from breaking the light rail crossing arms. So far this year, drivers have struck more than 380 crossing arms along the light rail - an average of 48 per month.

The city has launched a campaign to remind drivers to stay behind the crossing arms, with modest results so far.