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I-77: Scheduled to be completed by end of the year

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LAKE NORMAN – The Interstate 77 Express Lanes project between Mooresville and Charlotte is on schedule for completion by the end of the year. And the months between now and then – starting with the first I-77 Advisory Board session later this month – will be filled with discussions and debates about the implementation and future operation of the managed lanes.

The project – a public-private partnership venture between North Carolina and I-77 Mobility Partners – creates two express lanes on I-77 in each direction between Charlotte and Exit 28 in Cornelius, and one express lane in each direction between Exit 28 in Cornelius to Exit 36 in Mooresville. The lanes, adjacent to general purpose lanes, will be available for free use by motorcycles, buses, emergency vehicles and transponder-equipped vehicles with at least three occupants. Drivers of all other vehicles using the lanes will be assessed a toll.

Jean Leier, director of corporate affairs for I-77 Mobility Partners, said this week that construction on the 26-mile, $647 million interstate project, which began in October 2015, is progressing on schedule with lanes set to open by the end of 2018.

“We are on target for the end of the year,” Leier said. “The project is coming together, and we are in communication with the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Turnpike Authority to keep them updated on our progress.”

Some of the project pieces are renovations at the bridge at Exit 30 in Davidson, where a wider span will include pedestrian and bicycle lanes, and a new bridge at Hambright Road in Huntersville that will feature direct-access ramps to the express lanes. 

A greenway tunnel underneath I-77 just north of Exit 23 in Huntersville is also about 70 percent complete, according to Leier.

In addition, other pre-opening steps will include public meetings to explain the managed lane operation and introduce the initial and future tolling procedures.

“Before the lanes become operational, we will be holding a public hearing to make sure residents in the corridor are aware of the project and how it will operate,” Leier said, adding that the time and place for the meeting (or meetings) has not been set.

Leier also said prior to opening the lanes I-77 Mobility Partners will post the initial toll rates on the www.I77express.com website.

“The rates will be set for the first six months while motorists get familiar with how the lanes operate,” Leier said. “After that, dynamic toll pricing will begin.”

Under the dynamic pricing format, toll rates will be determined by the level of usage and the requirement that traffic in the express lanes – as part of the “managed” aspect of the project – maintain an average speed of at least 45 miles per hour.

The installation of signs and the placement of poles to be equipped with electronic tolling devices has begun along the express lane route. Tolling will be managed by the North Carolina Turnpike Authority (NCTA). 

Advisory board input

Public previews of express lane operations will not be the only local sessions focused on the interstate project. Carly Olexik, an NCDOT public relations officer, said this week that the first meeting of the I-77 Advisory Board, a newly formed group consisting of representatives from municipalities and chambers of commerce along the express lanes corridor, is scheduled for Jan. 24.

The board’s purpose, according to Olexik and previous statements from N.C. Secretary of Transportation Jim Trogdon, will be to evaluate possibilities for amending – or perhaps canceling – the express lanes agreement.

Last year, the Mercator Advisors firm was hired by the NCTA to analyze the Comprehensive Agreement between the state and I-77 Mobility Partners and to list potential ways to alter terms of the contract.

The final report identified several options for changing the agreement and stated that each would involve logistical uncertainties and financial obligations. The Mercator report did not go into specifics about those repercussions.

The advisory board’s assignment will be to examine those options and related consequences.

Board members representing municipalities and chambers of commerce have been identified previously, with the exception of replacement Davidson representative Beth Cashion and Huntersville Chamber of Commerce representative Ted Mitchell.

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