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DOT says U.S. 74 toll lanes could cost 26 cents a mile

The DOT is widening U.S. 74, and plans to include express toll lanes in the median when the project is finished. The state estimated the toll at peak travel times would be 26 cents a mile.
The DOT is widening U.S. 74, and plans to include express toll lanes in the median when the project is finished. The state estimated the toll at peak travel times would be 26 cents a mile. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The N.C. Department of Transportation estimates the peak toll on proposed U.S. 74 express lanes will be 26 cents a mile, which would make a one-way trip about $1.50.

The state is planning to add express toll lanes in the median of U.S. 74, from uptown to Wallace Lane, which is just north of W.T. Harris Boulevard. The project could be completed in two years.

At a recent Charlotte City Council meeting, Mayor Dan Clodfelter questioned state and city officials as to whether they had more detailed estimates of how much the toll lanes would cost.

At that time, the DOT said it didn’t have any firm projections. But in response to Clodfelter’s questions, the DOT responded with more detailed information of 26 cents a mile during rush hour.

The DOT emphasized that the toll projection could change.

“Actual toll rates...will ultimately be established in response to traveler demand,” the DOT said in a letter to the city. “As more travelers choose to use the express lanes, the toll increases. As travelers decide not to use the lanes, the toll decreases.”

The most controversial toll lane project is a public-private partnership to add toll lanes to Interstate 77 in north Mecklenburg.

The DOT’s agreement calls for I-77 Mobility Partners, the developer, to build and manage the lanes. The developer will also determine how much the tolls will be.

The state had estimated a round-trip toll from Charlotte to Iredell County could cost $20 by 2035.

The DOT said this week that it has reached out to I-77 Mobility Partners for more current projections on toll rates.

In addition to concerns about the cost of I-77 tolls, a number of north Mecklenburg towns have questioned the wisdom of the project. One of their biggest concerns is a provision in the contract that makes it difficult for the DOT to add new lanes to I-77 for the next 50 years.

On Tuesday night, Mecklenburg County commissioners moved to thwart the toll lanes on I-77.

The county’s representative on a regional transportation planning organization is commissioner Dumont Clarke, who supports the toll lanes. The group – the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization – is a key decision-marker for toll lanes.

Commissioners voted 7-2 Tuesday to create a new policy allowing them to direct the vote of their CRTPO member. They then voted 5-4 to direct Clarke to vote against the long-range transportation plan.

The DOT also plans to add toll lanes to I-485 in south Charlotte. The state didn’t provide an estimate to the city about those toll rates, but the DOT said it assumed the toll would be 15 cents a mile.

The I-485 toll lanes, like the U.S. 74 project, would be built and managed by the state.

The DOT has said that the express toll lanes give motorists a reliable travel time, so long as they are willing to pay. The toll would guarantee drivers a speed of at least 45 mph.

But it’s unclear whether the new lanes would divert much traffic from the existing free lanes. The DOT said it hasn’t yet done a study to see how the toll lanes would impact congestion on U.S. 74 and I-485.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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