New CMS high school causing traffic headaches in southwest Charlotte

CHARLOTTE — The newest high school in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools opened Monday, but its already causing frustration for drivers in southwest Charlotte.

Several viewers reached out to Channel 9 sharing their experience in the backup along Highway 49 in the Steele Creek area near Palisades High School.

The intersection is not the place to be at 7 a.m. each morning. Thousands of commuters coming into Charlotte from York or Gaston counties end up backed up in both directions along the highway.

“Traffic is getting better, it still needs some work,” Catelyn Koostra told Channel 9′s Gina Esposito when she dropped her daughter off at school at 7:15 this morning. “Four light cycles just to get through that traffic light to turn left.”

The high school has been warning students and parents to arrive at school as early as 6:30 a.m. even though the school bell doesn’t ring until after 7 a.m.

Palisades Park Elementary School has been in the area for years, but with the introduction of the new high school next door, 1,700 more students are now headed to class along the stretch of Highway 49.

The traffic got so backed up on Wednesday that Channel 9 saw cars blocking traffic back to the Buster Boyd Bridge.

Some drivers tried to avoid the chaos by making U-turn at the McDowell Nature Preserve. Others let their students out along the highway to walk the rest of the way.

That worries Greg Biddlecome who lives nearby.

“There are children literally three feet from a road, and you can see the speed limit is 55 miles per hour,” he said.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation told Channel 9 there are school zone markings along the highway, but there are no plans to lower the speed limit. They say its because the schools’ entrances aren’t on the highway.

From Chopper 9 Skyzoom we saw the intersection near the high school packed with cars as students were dropped off for the first day of classes.

Before the pandemic, 35,000 cars used the highway each day. Drivers could take the Wilkinson Boulevard Bridge as an alternate, but its 10-miles away.

Any other solution to the traffic is likely years away.

One group is submitting plans to NCDOT next year to build the ‘Catawba Crossings Bridge.’ It would be built between the two existing bridges and provide much needed relief.

“We’re looking at a 20% reduction on US 74 if Catawba Crossings is built, a 10% reduction in average annual daily traffic counts on NC 49,” said Randi Gates, an administrator with the Gaston-Cleveland-Lincoln Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Even if that goes as planned, drivers may not be able to use the proposed bridge until 2038.

In the meantime, drivers like Koostra want to see small improvements.

“I think there needs to be someone trying to direct traffic or work on the light,” she said.

>>> Traffic Team 9′s Mark Taylor monitors your commute, including around Palisades High School, from 4:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. each weekday on Channel 9.

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