The Lake Norman Transportation Commission will urge the state to convert Interstate 77's HOV lanes to toll lanes.
The commission unanimously backed the concept of "high-occupancy toll lanes" at its meeting Wednesday.
The panel said "HOT" lanes would reduce congestion and bring the proposed widening of I-77 sooner.
The toll lanes would be free to vehicles carrying at least two people. CATS buses and van pools would also use the lanes free.
Motorists traveling alone could use the lanes if they paid a toll. The price would vary depending on the time of day; tolls would be higher during the most congested hours.
Some toll revenues would pay for law enforcement to watch for motorists trying to cheat the system.
An I-77 task force led by Mooresville commissioner Mitch Abraham unanimously endorsed the toll lanes concept at a meeting Tuesday at Cornelius Town Hall.
Toll revenues also would help pay to expand the high-occupancy vehicle lanes through Huntersville to Cornelius Exit 28, Lynn Purnell, a civil engineer for consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff, told the task force. The commission and its I-77 task force include representatives from Mooresville and northern Mecklenburg County.
The HOV lanes on I-77 stretch into Charlotte. The highway has 18 miles of HOV lanes southbound and 14 miles northbound, giving it one of the longest HOV stretches in the country, Purnell said.
Purnell said top state Department of Transportation officials, including Transportation Secretary Gene Conti, were receptive to the plan when he discussed it with them in Raleigh recently. He said such a proposal must first have the backing of local officials before DOT would consider moving ahead with HOT lanes, Purnell said.
It hasn't yet been determined how to pay for extending the HOV lanes to Exit 28, Purnell said. But special toll revenue bonding could cover $22million of the projected $57million in capital costs, he said.
State Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, who gave a legislative update to the Transportation Commission, suggested looking into money from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, known as CMAC. A CMAC grant, for instance, will reimburse 100percent of Mooresville's costs for its planned parking project at a future CATS rail stop near the Lowe's Companies Inc. national headquarters, off I-77 Exit 33.
HOT lanes are used to reduce congestion elsewhere in the country, such as Orange County, Calif., and Minneapolis, Minn., Purnell said. Atlanta is preparing to convert its HOV lanes to HOT lanes, but that city is requiring at least three people to be in a vehicle to ride HOT lanes for free, Purnell said.
"We're not forcing people to use these lanes," Purnell told the I-77 task force. "Those who choose to ride in the regular lanes can still do so."
Huntersville Transportation Planner Bill Coxe told the commission that the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization has already endorsed the idea that any I-77 widening be done with "managed lanes," such as HOV and HOT lanes.
Huntersville commissioner Ron Julian, who listened in on the Transportation Commission meeting, said later that he supports the commission's efforts to improve I-77. He said he sees HOT lanes as a temporary solution to eventually getting three or four general-purpose lanes in both directions all the way to Cornelius.
Next, Abraham said, the Transportation Commission will send a letter to N.C. DOT in Raleigh mentioning that the Lake Norman panel has endorsed the HOT concept for I-77. Local officials may follow up with visits there, he said.