Not even one stretch of the I-77 toll lanes will open this year, contractor says

Drivers must wait until 2019 for any stretch of Interstate 77 toll lanes to open, the private contractor on the project said Wednesday.

A spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation told The Charlotte Observer in November that the contractor expected to open lanes on the northern section of the 26-mile project by the end of 2018.

In a statement Wednesday, I-77 Mobility Partners said the northern section of the project, from just north of Hambright Road in Huntersville to N.C. 150 in Mooresville, is now scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2019. The entire 26 miles to uptown Charlotte will open by summer 2019, I-77 Mobility Partners said.

Work started in November 2015, and the lanes were originally scheduled to open by the end of 2018.

The contract between Spain-based contractor Cintra and the NCDOT originally called for Cintra subsidiary I-77 Mobility Partners to face fines of $10,000 a day if the lanes didn’t open by Jan. 7, 2019.

Now, I-77 Mobility Partners has another year before fines would kick in. That’s because the government added more work since the contract was signed, including pavement repair on I-77’s free lanes, the NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners have said.

Also, in 2017, the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization requested and approved direct connections from I-77 bridges at Lakeview Road and Hambright Road to and from toll lanes in both directions, the Observer reported.

“Unforeseen weather events” also delayed the project timeline, Javier Tamargo, CEO of I-77 Mobility Partners, said in Wednesday’s statement. The contractor’s new timetable announced Wednesday is still ahead of the October 2019 contract deadline with NCDOT, Tamargo said.

I-77 Mobility Partners “set an ambitious goal for itself to open lanes by the end of 2018,” Tamargo said. “In collaboration with Sugar Creek Construction and NCDOT, we have made significant progress to improve this important corridor.”

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.