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Local News

NCDOT Says Only Northern Section Of I-77 Toll Lanes Will Open On Time

Workers construct a ramp from I-277 to I-77 southbound near uptown Charlotte Monday.
David Boraks
/
WFAE
Workers construct a ramp from I-277 to I-77 southbound near uptown Charlotte this summer.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation says only the northern section of new toll lanes on I-77 north of uptown Charlotte will open as scheduled by year's end. The rest should be done by mid-year, according to the project's contractor, I-77 Mobility Partners, which blames the change on construction delays and additions to the project.

Construction began three years ago on the $670 million project, which is is adding toll lanes on 26 miles of the congested highway from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 36 in Mooresville.

I-77 Mobility Partners had said this summer that ramps and other parts of the project would not be finished by January, though most sections would open on time.  But in separate statements Tuesday, both the company and NCDOT said only the northern section in the Lake Norman area would open by the end of the year.

"We continue to work toward our goal of opening the express lanes on the northern section of the project by the end of the year, with the entire 26-miles of express lanes open to traffic in the first half of 2019," I-77 Express Lanes spokeswoman Jean Leier said in an email.

The statements were not specific about what sections would be open by the end of the year.

Leier said project additions requested by NCDOT have pushed back the projected full completion date.

"Since signing the original contract, additional work was added to the project scope to improve the roadway for drivers. We have worked closely with NCDOT in determining these project improvements and adjusting timelines to accommodate the broader scope of the project," Leier said.  

NCDOT spokeswoman Jen Thompson described some of the additions. "The direct connectors at Lakeview Road and Hambright Road were added at the request of the local planning organization. Pavement rehabilitation to the general purpose lanes [were] also added so traffic will not be impacted with more road work in a few years," she said in a statement.  

Tolls initially will cost $6.55 one way for those driving the full length of the project. I-77 Mobility Partners said it will announce discounts for toll lane users if only some of the toll lane sections are open at first.

NCDOT's contract with the company, a subsidiary of Spanish construction giant Cintra, had called for penalties of $10,000 per day for each section not completed by Jan. 7, 2019. But that deadline has been pushed back to Nov. 1, 2019, the NCDOT said.

Leier said toll gantries and equipment have now been installed northbound and southbound in the northern area of the project. The equipment will record who is using the toll lanes from transponders that drivers obtain from the N.C. Turnpike Authority. If drivers don't have the free transponders, cameras will take a photo of their license plates, and they'll get a bill in the mail. Those mail bills will cost 35 percent more than if drivers use a transponder.

I-77 Mobility Partners is financing most of the project's cost through federal loans and private bonds, as well as its own money. The $670 million cost is $20 million more originally estimated. CEO Javier Tamargo told WFAE in September that's because the company is investing more of its own money in upgrades on the project, including those direct connectors.