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Charlotte region’s first toll road opens Tuesday. Here’s what you need to know.

Drone footage shows toll lane construction

The $647 million Interstate 77 toll lane project is scheduled to open by the end of the year. It will add two toll lanes in each direction from uptown to Exit 28 in Cornelius and on to Exit 36. The project has faced ongoing controversy.
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The $647 million Interstate 77 toll lane project is scheduled to open by the end of the year. It will add two toll lanes in each direction from uptown to Exit 28 in Cornelius and on to Exit 36. The project has faced ongoing controversy.

The Charlotte region’s first toll road is set to open Tuesday, and the Monroe Expressway could potentially ease travel on a congested stretch of the busy east-west route U.S. 74.

That could make for a faster drive to the beach for Charlotte residents, and easier access for some commuters and businesses in the fast-growing area southeast of Mecklenburg County.

The 20-mile Monroe Expressway runs parallel to U.S. 74 from just south of I-485, bypassing Indian Trail, Monroe and Wingate before rejoining U.S. 74 near Marshville.

Construction of the $800 million highway started in May 2015. Here are some of the key facts you need to know about the Monroe Expressway:

How much it will cost

Unlike on I-77 north of uptown, tolls for the Monroe Expressway are fixed and won’t vary based on time of day or how congested the road is. The tolls will be billed by segment.

The shortest trip, from the western end of the road just over the Union/Mecklenburg county line to the first exit, will cost NC Quick Pass transponder users 26 cents and bill-by-mail customers 40 cents. Tolls for driving the whole length will top out at $2.54 for transponder users and $3.92 for bill-by-mail customers.

How to pay

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NCDOT

The Monroe Expressway won’t have any toll booths. Instead, like the toll lanes on I-77, the road will use an all-electronic tolling system, with readers positioned on gantries above the roadway that allow traffic to enter and exit without stopping. The road will be operated by the N.C. Turnpike Authority.

“All-electronic tolling will provide our customers seamless travel to their destination without having to slow down or stop to pay tolls,” Turnpike Authority Executive Director Beau Memory said in a statement. Drivers with an NC Quick Pass or other compatible transponder will be automatically debited, while license plate readers will record drivers who don’t have a pass and send them a bill in the mail.

Drivers who are billed through the mail will pay higher toll rates that are about 50 percent higher. If you don’t have a transponder, you can sign up for one at www.ncquickpass.com or via phone at 877-769-7277.

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Monroe Expressway vs. I-77 tolls

The I-77 toll lanes, which are being built and operated by a subsidiary of the Spanish infrastructure firm Cintra, are supposed to partially open later this year. But substantial construction is still ongoing along much of the 26-mile route from uptown to Mooresville, and the company has said the full length of the road won’t be open on time.

Tolls to use that $647 million road (which Cintra has picked up most of the tab for) will vary based on congestion. During peak travel times, it could cost up to $9.40 to drive the whole length of the toll lanes one way. That means a round-trip during peak rush hours would cost up to $18.80.

The Monroe Expressway and the I-77 toll lanes won’t be the last toll roads Charlotte sees. The NCDOT plans to start work next year on a $290 million project to add toll lanes on I-485, running from I-77 to U.S. 74. That plan also includes adding one free lane in each direction from Rea Road to Providence Road.

Many north Mecklenburg residents have lambasted the toll lanes as unfair. Others are upset that the project isn’t adding any extra free lane capacity to I-77 and that all of the expansion is with new express toll lanes.

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