Local & State Voices

Let’s dig into the I-77 toll numbers

Traffic heads south on I-77 as construction continued earlier this summer at Exit 23 on the controversial I-77 toll lanes project.
Traffic heads south on I-77 as construction continued earlier this summer at Exit 23 on the controversial I-77 toll lanes project. Observer photo

Let me try to do the numbers.

First answer is three. Three years after big, wheezing machines started shoving around dirt along I-77, the agency behind the toll lanes scheme was able to say how much it would cost the public for the privilege of driving on them.

Questions about pricing go back farther than the invasion of bulldozers along the stretch of highway regarded as Lake Norman’s Main Street. They go all the way back to 2009 when the idea of charging motorists tolls to build extra lanes was first hatched.

Figuring out such things is difficult. Nine is the number of years it took to come up with a number.

Actually two numbers. Rush hours for the first six months will be cheaper than rush hours in the months after that. Think of it as an introductory deal.

And the number that they show on the sign, the price of admission to the fast lanes, isn’t necessarily the number you’ll pay. That’s strictly for members of the club, motorists with transponders that ping their account numbers to efficient little sensors hanging over the lanes.

If you’re from out-of-state or a local without a transponder, you’ll pay about 50 percent more than the advertised price because of the immense expense of one computer asking another for your address based on the number of your license plate.

About $9 will be the cost for driving the 26-mile length of the zip lanes from Mooresville to uptown Charlotte during peak demand times after the discount period ends. That’s a number that managers think will work best to keep the riff-raff out of the speedy lanes, which by contract must move along at 45 mph or more. When you put the toll higher, fewer motorists can afford the entry fee, meaning that the lanes are empty enough that toll cars can swoosh along.

So if you make the round trip in rush hour all the way, you’d be looking at the number $18, or $90 a week for the privilege of using highway lanes that in other quadrants of the state are built from fuel taxes and open to all.

There are two classes of commuters who find a maximum weekly commute expense of $90 a reasonable fee — those who have their employers subsidize their round-trips and those who can afford to own NFL teams.

Our next number is infinity. That is the range that tolls can reach over the decades ahead. While the road’s operators have given us a peek at their tolling plans for the next year, they say that the rates will likely rise as time goes on. There’s no cap to that number, no limit on how far it can rise.

Fifty is our prime number. That’s the number of years this highway gouge is authorized to operate after our foreign partner pays for much of the construction and then takes control of all of the tolling.

Nothing can stop this fiasco about to unfold along 26 miles of the state’s most-clogged major artery. But toll lanes are being held up as the grand solution to other clogs around the Charlotte region. Nobody in Raleigh seems willing to champion a nickel or dime rise in the state motor fuels tax, which could be used to build free lanes alleviating urban congestion and would be open to all.

Which brings us to our final number. How much sense does that make?


Email: mwashburn76@gmail.com.