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I-77 Toll Lane Construction Begins Mon., Company Says

David Boraks
CorneliusNews.net file photo

The company hired to build and operate toll lanes on I-77 north of Charlotte says it will begin construction work on the $648 million project this Monday, Nov. 16.

I-77 Mobility Partners said most of the construction work will be in the highway median, to avoid causing additional delays on the congested stretch of highway. Work will begin from just south of Exit 23 in Huntersville to north of Exit 28 in Cornelius, including grading land, installing barriers and re-striping the road for lane shifts. 

Work involving lane closures and shifts will happen overnight, the company said in a press release Thursday afternoon.

Construction will start in the area south of Exit 23 Gilead Road to north of Exit 28 Catawba Avenue.  Work will be underway on the entire 26-mile project during 2016, the company said. 

Even as construction begins, toll lane opponents are continuing to fight the project. They're calling on the NC Department of Transportation to cancel its contract with I-77 Mobility Partners and instead pay for building regular lanes. 

A group called Widen I-77 has filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the project, and a court hearing is scheduled Jan. 8.  Meanwhile, amid heightened pressure from opponents, Lake Norman area lawmakers have called a press conference Friday morning in Cornelius for an unspecified announcement.  In the Nov. 3 local election, anti-toll sentiment helped unseat the Mayor and two town board members in Huntersville.  

I-77 is the main commuter route between the Lake Norman area and Charlotte. The project would add two toll lanes from the Brookshire Freeway north to Exit 28 in Cornelius, and one toll lane from there north to Exit 36 in Mooresville.  

The NC Department of Transportation has said the widening project doesn’t rank high enough on its priority list to make the cutoff for limited funding. Officials say the public-private partnership with I-77 Mobility Partners is the best way to widen I-77 sooner.

The private company is a subsidiary of Spanish construction giant Cintra, which has built similar projects elsewhere around the U.S. The company and other private investors are providing $248 million of the cost of the project, while $189 million is coming from a federal loan, and $100 million from Federal Highway Administration bonds. The NC DOT is chipping in $95 million.

I-77 Mobility Partners expects to recoup its investment and pay off the bonds through tolls it collects over the next 50 years. The new lanes would be free for carpoolers and commuter buses, while others could use the lanes for a fee, which has yet to be determined. One early study projected the tolls could run as high as $20 a day for commuters.  

The company repeated Thursday that it expects the full 26-mile project to be finished in 2018.

In a statement Thursday, spokeswoman Jean Leier of I-77 Mobility Partners said the company is “excited to begin construction.”

“The project will bring reduced traffic congestion, spur economic development through the hiring of 50-100 local firms and deliver a choice for North Carolina drivers at little cost to taxpayers,” Leier said. “We are committed to regular and ongoing communications with residents, commuters and businesses in the area to ensure a successful and safe project.”

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.