Lake exit causes delays

Exit 31 at Langtree Road has become the scene of regular Interstate 77 backups in recent months, say commuters caught in the southbound snarls at Lake Norman.

Bill Williams said it used to take 25 to 30 minutes to commute from his office off I-77 Exit 49A (Garner Bagnal Boulevard) in Statesville to his Cornelius home. Several times over the past couple of months, the drive has taken at least an hour, he said.

"I could appreciate it if the problem was an accident or a mechanical breakdown in the traffic restriction around the Brawley School Road construction project (I-77 Mooresville Exit 35 that's under construction), but this is not the case," Williams said in an email to the Observer.

He wondered whether motorists using side-road shortcuts to avoid I-77 southbound slowdowns were contributing to the problem by exiting back onto the interstate from Exit 31.

"Since I am not a traffic engineer, I'm not sure what can be done about this problem, but it is something that needs to be addressed," Williams said.

The national headquarters of home improvement retailer Lowe's Companies Inc. also is off Exit 31, as is the planned $1 billion Langtree at the Lake mixed-use community on Lake Norman.

The problem, however, lies with the volume of traffic on the interstate, not vehicles trying to access it, Mooresville Transportation Planner Neil Burke said last week.

The stretch of I-77 between exits 31 and 33 in southern Iredell County averages 70,000 to 80,000 vehicles a day, Burke said.

"When you have that volume of traffic on a four-lane highway (two lanes northbound and two lanes southbound), you're going to have congestion," he said.

Adding more lanes to I-77 would help alleviate the congestion, Burke said, but such a state widening of the highway in Iredell County "is not going to occur for the next five years," he said.

Bringing commuter rail from Charlotte would also vehicles off the road, he said. High-occupancy toll lanes planned on I-77 would offer motorists quicker commutes, he said, but plans call for extending the lanes only to near Cornelius Exit 28.