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Plan to build new, privately-run toll lanes on I-77 advances to the next stage

Toll lanes on I-77 in Cornelius were empty Tuesday morning.
David Boraks
I-77 toll lanes in North Mecklenburg.

Charlotte-area transportation planners voted Wednesday to study whether it makes sense to partner with a private company to build toll lanes on Interstate 77 from uptown to the South Carolina state line.

Last year, the Department of Transportation received a proposal to build and manage new toll lanes on I-77 from Cintra, the Spanish company that manages the I-77 toll lanes in north Mecklenburg.

That project — which opened in 2019 — was one of the most controversial highway projects in Charlotte, and North Carolina, history. Many Lake Norman-area residents objected to giving a private company the ability to set toll rates and collect revenue for 50 years.

Members of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization voted Wednesday to study Cintra's proposal to create a similar project for I-77's southern portion in Mecklenburg County. That keeps the idea moving forward.

Charlotte City Council member Ed Driggs voted in favor of the study, as did Mecklenburg County commissioner Leigh Altman. Driggs said he has concerns about using a private company, but said it’s “too soon to pull the plug.”

Under CRTPO rules, the city of Charlotte has a weighted vote, worth 45% of the total.

But there were several no votes, from the representatives of towns Matthews, Pineville, Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and Indian Trail.

Davidson Mayor Rusty Knox said he doesn’t want a repeat of the I-77 north Mecklenburg toll lane project.

“How many people would have actually been in favor of it if they knew they were going to pay $4 to go one exit on I-77?” Knox said. “I think that was kinda unimaginable.”

Other skeptics said they should push legislators for more money, so the DOT doesn’t have to turn to a private company like Cintra.

The state has said building the toll lanes with only public funding, and no private money, means the lanes might not open until the 2040s.


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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.