The controversial Interstate 77 toll lanes project is on schedule to open at the end of 2018, the lead contractor told Charlotte City Council Monday night.
But commuters were also warned that construction headaches will soon be coming to Charlotte just north of uptown, which could add time to morning and afternoon commutes. So far, construction on the express lanes has been in north Mecklenburg, between Exits 23 and 36.
In the next few days, I-77 Mobility Partners said it would close the High-Occupancy Vehicles lane on southbound I-77 from I-85 to its end, near Oaklawn Bridge just north of uptown. The contractor said it didn’t know how long the HOV lane would be closed, though it would likely be several months.
In addition, I-77 Mobility Partners, a subsidiary of the Spanish firm Cintra, plans to begin lane shifts on both northbound and southbound traffic on I-77 north of uptown. Lane shifts often cause more congestion.
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But David Hannon, chief infrastructure officer for I-77 Mobility Partners, said the lanes on I-77 near uptown were already narrow, at 11 feet. Federal law prohibits them from being narrowed any further.
When finished, the 26-mile, $650 million project will create express toll lanes from uptown to Mooresville.
The price of the toll will fluctuate depending on congestion. If more people want to use the lanes, I-77 Mobility Partners – which will also manage the lanes for 50 years – will likely raise the price. It’s possible a one-way trip to Charlotte could cost as much as $20.
The project has been bitterly opposed in north Mecklenburg, and some have speculated that the toll lanes led to Gov. Pat McCrory trailing Democrat Roy Cooper in this month’s election by about 5,000 votes.
While McCrory won all 15 north Mecklenburg precincts in his 2012 governor’s race, he lost five of them last week. His votes in the 15 precincts were about 8,000 fewer than four years earlier. Cooper received about 14,000 more than Democrat Walter Dalton got in 2012. That’s a swing of 22,000 votes.
Cooper has said he opposes the project, though it’s unclear if he will move to cancel the contract.
I-77 Mobility Partners spokesperson Jean Leier was asked after Monday’s meeting whether the contractor has reached out to Cooper. She declined to say, and only said the group “looks forward to meeting with all state and local leaders.”
I-77 Mobility Partners also detailed two changes it has made to the project since the original design.
One was adding access from the toll lanes directly to I-85 and vice versa.
Another was to change the access from the toll lanes to I-277. The original design made it difficult for southbound toll lane drivers to exit I-277.
“Charlotte asked us to look at the interchange of 77 and 277,” Hannon said. “People couldn’t exit at Graham Street and they couldn’t exit at Church. They had to go to Brevard. This made them not very friendly to city of Charlotte.”
The new design will allow toll lane drivers to use all I-277 exits.
The N.C. Department of Transportation also updated council members on other large highway projects in the area.
▪ The Monroe Expressway, a toll highway in Union County, is scheduled to open at the end of 2018.
▪ Express lanes for I-485 in south Charlotte will begin in the summer of 2017 when the DOT awards a construction contract. As part of that contract, a new interchange at I-485 and Weddington Road has been included.
▪ On Independence Boulevard, the interchange with North Sharon Amity Road and Independence Boulevard is scheduled to open at the end of this year. The Idlewild Road interchange should open by early 2017.