CONCORD — Over the next month, shoppers will fill the stores and flood the streets in search of holiday gifts.
Traffic volume is anticipated to increase up to 20 percent in the Concord Mills area this holiday season, especially near Exit 49 off Interstate 85.
Concord traffic officials say that, typically, the northbound ramp to Concord Mills Boulevard coming onto the interstate gets a daily volume of about 13,000 cars.
Beginning Black Friday, the day shoppers will be looking for the best deals, through Christmas, traffic will increase drastically.
The city of Concord’s Traffic Transportation Department will be monitoring traffic from its state-of-the-art Traffic Management Center.
The Traffic Management Center has a main control room with an LCD video wall that displays a live camera feed across Concord, software that controls the signals and cameras, and a maintenance area.
The cameras are used to monitor the busiest intersections in town, and can also be used to assist the Concord Police Department on incidents throughout Concord.
“We are looking for major delays. We are looking for incidents to assist emergency response as well,” said Phillip Graham, city of Concord transportation director. “We are looking for those unknown backup times. Traditionally, we know when traffic is going to back up, but things happen, and this allows us to see it in real time.”
The Traffic Management Center has been open since its grand opening in June, so this will be the first holiday season in the facility.
City leaders said during the grand opening that the video wall is “the first traffic application of its kind in the state, and offers staff enhanced capabilities to make real-time adjustments to signalized intersections and corridors with a centralized traffic software system.”
With the holiday season approaching, the transportation department will be paying particular attention to traffic flow along Concord Mills Boulevard and near Charlotte Motor Speedway, where thousands of people will view the Christmas lights.
“Anytime leading through the holidays, drivers should expect more delays, should be patient as there will be visitors from outside of your Concord residence shopping here,” Graham said. “The signals, we will work on those to put in plans to help flow the traffic, but there is still a higher volume of cars that need to be accommodated for.”
Concord’s Transportation Department recently installed a new message board along the Exit 49 ramp off Interstate 85.
In illuminated letters, it will direct drivers to Concord Mills Mall, to the Speedway and to Highway 29.
“We have the new message board that is over the ramp at Exit 49 that is fully functioning, and we can make changes to that to alert drivers,” Graham said. “We can make changes to that board to alert drivers of any lanes to clarify their findings to the Concord Mills Mall, back to U.S. 29 or back to the Speedway. We’ve already seen that it has shown immediate help to visitors as they have come up the exit ramps to help know what lanes to be in.”
Graham noted that the highest volume of traffic in Concord during the holiday season is the first entrance to Concord Mills Mall near the TGI Fridays and Chick-fil-A.
Transportation officials urge drives to use the other entrances and prevent clogging up the first one into the mall.
“We urge drivers to use those other entrances to the mall,” Graham said. “There are four other gates to get into the mall that (drivers) can use at any time, so anytime you can spread out the volume of traffic, that just helps everybody.”
Graham said the transportation department is always collecting data and looking for ways to improve traffic flow moving forward.
Officials prepare well in advance for holiday traffic.
“The main thing we do to prepare is we take what we’ve seen in past years and our staff creates a specific traffic plan for peak hours during the day, so every day, during different times of the day, there are different plans in place that helps either flow the traffic in or out of Concord Mills Mall, bouncing that with the traffic on I-85 and with normal everyday business traffic coming through the corridor,” Graham said. “We are able to look at past data and compare that as traffic increases and input those plans that we’ve already created, planned for, and make changes so that we can prepare for the next season.”
Transportation officials will be closely monitoring the video wall at traffic’s peak times, and staffers are always on call in case an incident arises.
Traffic will increase but transportation officials also have to keep an eye on the weather as temperatures will continue to drop throughout the winter.
Vehicles may have to drive through snow, freezing rain or ice.
According to transportation officials, they will treat and monitor road conditions throughout Concord.
In December, Graham said, the department will have a “dry run,” which prepares and trains crews for treating the streets.
“They will put the plows on, put all of the equipment on the truck in December, and they will drive routes when there is no snow on the ground so they can see anywhere where there has been new construction, manholes sticking out of the ground, new guardrails, new striping, so they can make their notes and be prepared for those new obstacles (that) may be in the road,” Graham said.