In Charlotte, traffic is a housing issue

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Most of the time, Michelle Page is happy with her home.

A first-time buyer, she said she and her husband were lucky to close in 2020 before prices and mortgage rates skyrocketed. She loves her neighborhood and nearby parks. The only problem is the commute from Mooresville to her job in Uptown Charlotte.

“I take 77 southbound pretty much the whole way,” she said. “It is really tough if you hit anytime between 7 and 8:30.”

On paper, Page said the commute should take about 30 to 35 minutes, but she leaves home a little too late or there’s a major crash, the drive time can double.

“My longest commute in the last year and a half that I had this job was over two hours,” she said. “Slowing down is one thing but coming to a dead stop when you have a place to be is just soul crushing.”

At the same time, she’s not interested in moving closer to Charlotte. Her husband commutes to Salisbury and she wanted a more suburban neighborhood. On top of that, comparable homes in the city limits cost tens of thousands, in some cases a hundred thousand more.

Trading traffic for density

Christopher Miller made a different choice.

“We specifically chose one of the slivers of locations in Charlotte where you can safely bike,” he said.

To him, an easy commute to Uptown and being surrounded by places he can walk or bike to was worth the investment of buying a South Charlotte condo near the greenway, though as his family grows, he said he’s getting more aware of the tradeoffs.

“I would also like more space, but I accept the tradeoffs and I understand most people don’t make the same tradeoffs I make,” he said.

Miller believes more housing options in his neighborhood could make homes like his more affordable or at least provide more affordable options for smaller families looking to live closer to the urban core.

“I would love if there were much more duplexes and triplexes and townhomes,” he said.

It’s one of the issues at the heart of Charlotte’s Unified Development Ordinance, which aims to increase housing density across the city though Councilmember Ed Driggs said the city’s recently seen a lot of pushback.

“We hear a lot about congestion,” he said. “We’re trying to increase the density of development to create more housing, that creates a load on our infrastructure.”

Eric Zaverl with Sustain Charlotte believes the issue is density without improved transit or mobility infrastructure.

“When you have no choice but to drive, then you got to figure out where to store all those cars,” he said. “Are there ways that you can make these products duplexes and triplexes still work without having to figure out how to take over the whole yard and make it one giant parking lot?”

Zaverl believes investing in transit alongside density would encourage more Charlotte households to drop down to one or maybe zero personal vehicles clearing up more space on our roads and in our neighborhoods to accommodate more homes, businesses and green spaces.

“You need to solve the transportation problem,” he said. “Those are two things that are so interconnected that you need to focus on both of them.”

Transit supporting commuters

Driggs sees transit as a key to solving the housing shortage as well, though not as a key to fuel density, but to support those who have already spread out to the suburbs.

“If you create better mobility solutions, people can live further away in mile terms,” he said. “What really counts is the time.”

He sees the planned 25-mile Red Line commuter rail project connecting the North Mecklenburg communities as a potential big step forward.

The city is currently in discussions with Norfolk Southern, which owns the tracks the project plans to use and CATS aims to have the first phase of the design update completed by early 2025.

Page, who lives within walking distance of the tracks in Mt. Moore said if the Red Line becomes an option while she still works in Uptown, she’d strongly consider hopping aboard.

“Growing up in Chicago area, it was not uncommon to take the train into the city,” she said. “I would love to see something like a light rail or train some kind of thing that could take some of that stress off.”

In the meantime, she said, she’s tried finding alternate routes to avoid the I-77 congestion, but nothing seems to work. For now, she said she just needs to plan around the traffic and hope for a safe drive.

“I always joke I can be there at 7:30 or 10,” she said. “I cannot get there at 9 a.m.”

VIDEO: What’s being done to improve traffic, safety on busy stretch of York County road

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.