Firm chosen to independently review I-77 toll lanes project

Traffic on I-77 near Davidson Exit 30 in January 2016.
Traffic on I-77 near Davidson Exit 30 in January 2016. Charlotte Observer file photo

The N.C. Department of Transportation announced the selection of a firm on Friday to conduct an independent review of the contract and project to build toll lanes on Interstate 77 in northern Mecklenburg County.

Philadelphia-based Mercator Advisors LLC has no previous involvement in the project and has an extensive transportation finance background, the department said in a statement. The firm provides financial consulting to public agencies that sponsor major projects.

N.C. Turnpike Authority staff will provide data and other help to Mercator. The authority was not part of the original I-77 contract negotiations.

As part of the review, NCDOT also wants public input on issues of greatest concern to them regarding the contract. Offer input on the I-77 Express Lanes project page on NCDOT’s website, https://www.ncdot.gov/projects/I-77ExpressLanes/.

Mercator’s final report is expected by late summer. The review will cost about $100,000.

The project is well underway and unlikely to be halted, leaving uncertain what a review of the 1,300-page contract at this point could accomplish.

N.C. Transportation Secretary James Trogdon “is part of a new administration, under a new governor, and while we can’t change what happened before, we’re in now and want to take another look at the contract,” DOT spokeswoman Jen Thompson said recently. “We will review all aspects of the project, and whatever comes from it, we want to have community input.”

The project will add two express lanes in each direction between uptown Charlotte and Exit 28 in Cornelius. One express lane each way will be added between Cornelius and Exit 36 in Mooresville.

The existing high-occupancy vehicle lanes on the southern part of the project are being converted to express lanes.

DOT contracted with the Spanish firm Cintra to build and operate the project in 2015, and construction started late that year. Former DOT board Chairman Ned Curran of Charlotte said more toll lanes are likely in North Carolina.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak