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An added travel lane adjacent to two general purpose lanes is currently in place on I-77 between Langtree Road (Exit 31) and Brawley School Road (Exit 35) on the south side of Mooresville. Hardened shoulders in other stretches of the interstate through the Lake Norman area could become exit-to-exit lanes. 

A regional transportation planning organization is tapping the brakes on a recommendation that shoulders along Interstate 77 from Huntersville to Mooresville be used as travel lanes during heavy traffic periods when toll lanes through the area become operational.

The I-77 Local Advisory Board, a panel of officials from the Lake Norman area assembled by the N.C. Department of Transportation to address concerns about the I-77 Express Lanes project, recommended the “peak period shoulder lanes” in February after being advised on the concept by an NCDOT consultant.

But the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, which prioritizes road projects in Mecklenburg, Iredell and Union counties, is questioning the idea of turning shoulders into rush-hour travel lanes.

Actually, CRTPO has a lot of questions.

After discussion among staff members and CRTPO’s Technical Coordinating Committee, the organization tops off its list of queries with some fundamental questions:

“What is the problem on I-77 that is being addressed by the implementation of peak hour shoulder use?” CRTPO Assistant Planning Director Robert Cook asks in an April 11 memo to CRTPO members. “Is there an identified/forecasted traffic/operational deficiency that this project will address? Does approval of this project give the perception that we believe there are problems with the express lanes project before it even opens?”

Most I-77 Local Advisory Board members believe the express lanes themselves are the problem, but they view the opening of exit-to-exit shoulders to traffic as a way to accommodate local drivers with few north-south options other than I-77.

But Cook’s memo signals a level of skepticism among CRTPO’s planning professionals.

Among the other questions:

– Were emergency responders (who often use shoulders to get around standing traffic) consulted about how the change would affect them

– Will what amounts to adding a lane in each direction lead to fewer drivers using the express lanes (which could impact contractor I-77 Mobility Partners’ ability to collect tolls that will pay for the project)

– How will drivers know that the shoulder lanes are for use at peak periods only?

– What will prevent the shoulders from being used as “de facto general purpose lanes?”

– Why not wait for six to 12 months “to fully evaluate the operation of the express lanes?”

CRTPO will discuss the potential use of the shoulder lanes April 17. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. in Room 267 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. in Charlotte.

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