HUNTERSVILLE – For six months after the I-77 Express Lanes open for service later this year, a tolled, peak-time, full-length trip between Exit 36 in Mooresville and Exit 11 in Charlotte will cost $6.55 for vehicles equipped with a toll-system transponder. And after the introductory period, there will also be a toll-rate structure in place capping the amount users will pay.
I-77 Initial Trip Rates
|Trip||Rush Hour (Highest)||Midday or Weekends (Highest)|
|I-85 to Catawba Ave||$4.10||$2.40|
|Uptown to I-485||$2.55||$1.60|
|I-485 to Catawba Ave||$2.85||$1.40|
|Sam Furr Road to Exit 36||$3.40||$2|
|Exit 11 to Exit 36||$6.55||$4.20|
Initial and potential future toll rates were among the collection of project facts, maps and operational details presented at an express lanes-focused public hearing held Thursday, Sept. 13, at Huntersville United Methodist Church.
A 30-minute presentation focusing on the operational aspects and initial fee structure for the project served as the prelude to a public comment session. A pre-opening public hearing is a required procedure in the public-private partnership agreement between I-77 Mobility Partners, the firm operating the express lanes, and the state. I-77 Mobility Partners hosted the event, and Jean Leier, the company’s director of corporate affairs, conducted the presentation.
The presentation also indicated that on weekends and other less-congested travel times during the first 180 days, the full 26-mile trip in the managed lanes will cost $4.20. In all tolled scenarios, fees for vehicles not equipped with transponders will be higher. And tolls will apply to vehicles with fewer than three occupants. Vehicles with at least three occupants as well as buses and motorcycles will be exempt from the tolls.
Each multi-mile segment of the express lanes project, divided by entry and exit merge lanes at various points on I-77 throughout the Lake Norman area, will have set prices for peak and off-peak travel times that will not change during the first 180 days of operation. And toll rates will also be set for each section of the project after the introductory period.
Express lane details
North Carolina has committed to invest up to $170 million in the $647 million project, with I-77 Mobility Partners assuming financial responsibility for the remainder of the cost. The deal provides the company with a 50-year term to collect tolls on the additional lanes and also requires it to provide maintenance on the entire I-77 corridor during that time.
The new I-77 express lanes – one in each direction between Exit 36 and Exit 28 in Cornelius, and two in each direction between Exit 28 and Exit 11 – are expected to open before the end of 2018. All pieces of the road project, including several direct-connect access ramps (including one at Hambright Road in Huntersville) and revised intersection networks added to the project after construction began in late 2015 – are expected to be operational by the middle of 2019, according to Mobility Partners CEO Javier Tamargo.
Tamargo added that when express lanes open, users will be given a discounted rate if all project lane segments are not accessible.
The public hearing presentation included a breakdown of section-by-section toll rates and an introduction of the dynamic-pricing toll structure I-77 Mobility Partners plans to implement after the first six months. An emphasized component of the planned future toll structure features established minimums and maximums for each express lane segment, creating a cap on user rates.
As one of the requirements of “managing” the lanes, I-77 Mobility Partners is obligated to provide lane users with a minimum average travel speed of between 48 and 56 miles per hour. Dynamic pricing – a “supply and demand” process that involves raising or lowering toll rates as a way to regulate usage and limit congestion in the managed lanes – will be phased in after 180 days.
In the current plan using the dynamic pricing approach, each express lane section will have minimum and maximum tolls. A chart displayed at the presentation indicated minimum per-section rates of around 35 cents, and some section maximum rates of about $2.35.
When sections accessed by direct-connect ramps become operational, they will also have minimum and maximum rates.
Tamargo said beginning with minimum and maximum tolls will provide I-77 Mobility Partners with a starting point for rate and usage calculations. After the lanes have been in use long enough for traffic and usage patterns to be identified, rate adjustments could be made.
Following the prepared presentation, nine people spoke, delivering comments and questions to a panel of I-77 Mobility Partners representatives that included Tamargo, Leier and Chief Operations Officer David Hannon. The public hearing format did not call for responses to questions at the gathering, but statements and inquiries were documented.
Topics addressed focused on uncertainties about specific operational aspects of the lanes, including how transponder discrepancies would be addressed and the various fees – for purchase, account maintenance and late charges – associated with the transponders. Basic complaints about the toll project itself were also expressed.
The list of speakers included District 92 N.C. Rep. Chaz Beasley, who expressed specific concerns about the announced rates and the way they were packaged. Beasley urged I-77 Mobility Partners to be more transparent and clear about toll rates and other aspects of the project.
“I get questions about how things work, and questions about total route prices,” Beasley said. He said he had spent time during the public hearing piecing together presented numbers indicating a one-way full-route express lane trip between Mooresville and Charlotte at the maximum toll rate once dynamic pricing is implemented would cost more than $9.
Beasley said he thought all specifics of the tolls should be easier to understand and “shouldn’t be a matter of looking at the fine print.”
After the public meeting, Tamargo said the I-77 Mobility Partners team had expected more participation but added the firm will take comments into consideration and try to provide answers to questions asked. And in response to general criticisms shared at the meeting, Tamargo said he understands there has been, and continues to be, opposition to the express lanes project. But he believes when the lanes open, some of the uncertainties and concerns will be addressed.
“We know some concepts of this are not easy to understand,” he said, “but the proof will be in the pudding.”
The entire public hearing presentation – including anticipated rate parameters, maps complete with entry and exit points identifying express lane sections, section-by-section toll structures – are available at www.i77express.com. In addition, forms for submitting comments or questions will also be on the website. Comments related to the project public hearing will be accepted through Sept. 24.