Enquirer Herald

York County commuters brace for DC-like traffic during DNC

York County commuters are being advised to use caution and common sense next week when they navigate roads leading to and from Charlotte during the Democratic National Convention.

Roads around the Time-Warner Cable Arena will be closed or restricted during the convention and on Thursday – when President Barack Obama delivers his party nomination acceptance speech at Bank of America Stadium – Morehead Street and Interstate 277 between Interstate 77 and Independence Boulevard will be closed.

Charlotte police have advised drivers to add between 20 to 30 minutes to their commute, but many think the delays will be longer. One out of every four workers commutes into Charlotte, according to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

An estimated 24,000 York County residents make the trip to Charlotte for work. For those living in Fort Mill and Lake Wylie areas, it’s estimated every other car heads to Charlotte for work.

“This is like race week, but with national coverage,” said Jim Raper, a Rock Hill resident and Charlotte city employee, who commutes to work by bus.

Raper will be among those working from home next week. He works in the city’s IT department, so it’s easy to do his job from home. Nonetheless, he still will be working a 12-hour shift.

Richard Kaglic, an economist with the Charlotte branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, is staying at his Fort Mill home. Like Raper, Kaglic makes the commute by bus, about 38 minutes each way under normal circumstances.

His office is within easy walking distance of the Time-Warner Cable Arena, inside the “red zone” that’s getting extra security attention for delegates as well those who work in downtown Charlotte. His office decided early on to work remotely.

Kaglic and his colleagues are awaiting the outcome of the Charlotte and Tampa national conventions. The uncertainty over the election, and decisions on taxation and regulatory policy have contributed to the “slow, grind-it-out economy in the second half of the year,” Kaglic said. Business owners are seeking certainty when making decisions, he said.

Theron Pickens’ office is on North Graham Street in Charlotte, on the fringe of the “convention zone.” The Fort Mill resident is a principal and senior engineering manager for Land Design. The firm employs about 75 people.

“We expect our employees to come to work, we’re open for business,” he said. But, he also expects them to be cautious in the heavy traffic, which he says should be like the daily commute in places such as Washington, D.C.

“Use common sense, do the best you can,” he said.

Pickens normally makes the drive from Fort Mill to downtown Charlotte in 20 to 25 minutes. For the days of the convention he plans to allow an extra 30 minutes.

Teri Ackerman and Laura Maciag, both of Fort Mill, will be driving to Charlotte for work. Both don’t expect the commute to be a problem as their offices are in south Charlotte. Ackerman is the president of Leibowitz Market Research, while Maciag is the executive director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The convention is affecting their business, however.

Ackerman said her clients decided not to come to Charlotte for the week of the convention. “It will be a catch-up week,” she said.

Maciag anticipates a quiet week too without any downtown meetings.

Several of the York County commuters will make the early morning trip and then stay in Charlotte for DNC activities.

Sig Huitt’s office on East Morehead Street is an easy walk from Bank of America Stadium. The managing principal for Carolina Public Relations and Marketing, Huitt will be doing double duty during the convention week.

Several of his clients have events during the convention, and he is volunteering at the DNC.

Because of his office’s proximity to key convention sites, his landlord has hired security to police their parking lot and each employee now has a parking sticker, Huitt said.

Huitt isn’t sure how his commute will be affected, but he’s hopeful the impact will be minimal as he usually leaves for work at 6:30 a.m. Nonetheless, his firm has not scheduled early morning meeting for convention week.

Holly Cooper, marketing and communications director for Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, will make the drive and then donate her time to the Habitat for Humanity project home at the Legacy Village at the corner of Tryon and Stonewall streets.

“I’m excited and there will be a little inconvenience,” Cooper said. “It’s a three day-event, it won’t hurt anyone.”

On Thursday, Cooper, who ran for the state Legislature in 2010 as a Democrat, says she plans to be at Bank of America Stadium for Obama’s acceptance speech. Her travel plans for that event “are TBA,” she said.

Others have decided to avoid Charlotte all together.

Financial planner Larry Carroll left town for vacation in Alaska.

“It is vacation and the first time I have been gone for two weeks since I started the company 32 years ago,” Carroll wrote in a mid-trip email from Chicago. Carroll decided to leave rather than deal with “the traffic and business interruptions in Charlotte next week.”