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You may be more likely to crash on I-77 north of Charlotte. Here’s why.

Pavement markers picked up on I-77 in the toll lane construction zone.
Pavement markers picked up on I-77 in the toll lane construction zone.

Crashes in the Interstate 77 toll lane construction zone north of Charlotte are up 41 percent a year since work began, the N.C. Department of Transportation says, and drivers are worried.

Eighty-eight percent of the drivers who took an online survey say they feel unsafe in the 26-mile construction zone, says the Lake Norman Transportation Safety Partnership, which held a Wednesday night forum in Cornelius.

The latest concern is metal pavement markers that have come out of the roadway. DOT said it had been unaware of the problem.

“My concern is that they are going to come loose and end up killing somebody,” said Michelle Ferlauto, the Cornelius woman who started the group. “I want that fixed.”

DOT says it’s not unusual to see crashes go up when road construction starts but declares the zone still safe. The department’s data compares accidents in the three years before construction began in late 2015 to accidents a year later.

Most crashes in the work zone, from Hambright Road in Mecklenburg County to 1.25 miles north of N.C. 150 in Iredell County, are congestion-related.

Because the I-77 median is walled off by concrete barriers, for instance, side-swipe crashes per year are up 83 percent. Crashes with “fixed objects,” such as the barriers, are up 62 percent and rear-end collisions up 40 percent.

Most of the nearly 1,100 people who took part in an online survey were daily commuters on I-77.

Eighty-nine percent blamed DOT for not keeping the area safe and 74 percent said the “poor condition” of the interstate most concerned them. Ruts in the roadway and dust clouds that obscure visibility were the biggest construction-related complaints.

DOT spokeswoman Jen Thompson said the department will be more aggressive in safety inspections to catch problems.

“We are open to input and hearing from the public on what they seeing as well,” she said. “It is a long construction zone and we can’t catch everything immediately.”

DOT said last week it would make changes in the construction zone to improve safety. Many of the changes involve having more and better signs designating the area as a construction zone.

The state said it would also rework a lane shift on southbound lanes between Interstate 85 and LaSalle Street and cover all existing lane markings to prevent “ghosting,” where old lane markers are visible to drivers.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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