HUNTERSVILLE Top North Carolina highway officials on Wednesday defended the states plans for Interstate 77 toll lanes from Charlotte to Mooresville, saying it would otherwise take until 2030 or beyond for the highway to be expanded.
Having a private consortium design, build, finance, operate and maintain the lanes means the highway can be expanded far sooner in an age of limited public dollars, officials said.
This is probably one of those very decisive moments in transportation in North Carolina, Jim Trogdon, chief operating officer for the N.C. Department of Transportation in Raleigh, told about 25 residents at Huntersville Town Hall. Over the next 20 or 25 years, we anticipate about 50 percent growth in (the states) population. Youre in one of the critical areas that will see that growth.
Opponents packed the gathering.
Lawrence Raymer, whose family has lived in Huntersville since 1743, said the 50 percent growth will be in South Carolina if the toll lanes are built.
First it was to relieve congestion, opponent Linda Angele of Davidson said of the states rationale for toll lanes. Then it was to get the business people to the airport, and now its because its the only way they can fund it. What will it be next week?
Trogdon said about 75 percent of interstate miles in North Carolina will have to have significant capacity expansion, or $28 billion worth, in that time. Interstate 95 alone will require $4 billion, he said.
Expanding interstates would take 132 years, with no inflation, he added. Make no improvements to local U.S. roads in the state and it would take 75 years. Make no improvements to any roads or bridges and interstate expansion would still take 24 years, Trogdon said.
Even 24 years, he said, is not a plan for success.
Ditching toll lanes in favor of adding a general purpose lane is no solution, either, Trogdon said, since that general purpose lane would be just as bottlenecked as current lanes in five or six years.
The state intends to select a private consortium in August. Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2014, with some segments opening in 2016. The lanes would be the first privately operated toll lanes in North Carolina, and the contract would be for 50 years.
The project calls for adding two toll lanes on northbound and southbound I-77 between the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte and Exit 28 in Cornelius. Cars with at least three occupants would avoid a toll to use the lanes. One toll lane in each direction would continue between Exit 28 and Exit 36.
Toll rates would vary throughout the day depending on traffic volume, though no rates have been proposed. No toll booths will be required, as drivers will pay electronically.
When a resident at Wednesdays meeting asked Trogdon whether the HOT lanes could be stopped at this point, Trogdon replied, Anything (can happen) up until we execute the contract.
Marusak: 704-987-3670; Twitter: @ jmarusak.
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