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Emergency Crews Drill On Monroe Expressway Ahead Of Nov. 27 Opening

The Monroe Expressway opens in less than two weeks, giving drivers a way around congested Highway 74 through Monroe. On Thursday, Union County first responders mapped out how they'll handle wrecks during an emergency drill on the empty toll road.

On a rainy stretch of highway near Wingate, Adam Rorie of Wingate Fire Department described two mock accident scenes for emergency workers — one on an inside lane, one on an outside lane:

“We've seen it, we've done it before,” Rorie said. “It's nothing new to us, but we just wanted to take the opportunity — while we had the bypass and open road like this — to do it.”

The drill was the first chance for emergency crews to see how they'll work with the state's Incident Management Assistance Patrol, or IMAP.

“This is the first expressway or bypass we've had in Union County, so we've just not been exposed to IMAP at all, prior to this,” Union County Deputy Fire Marshal Jon Williams said. “So, that's been a good process of seeing what they can do and how they can benefit us during the accident.”

Construction on the 20-mile Monroe Expressway began in mid-2015 and is nearly complete. It runs from just east of Interstate 485 at the Mecklenburg County line, around the city of Monroe and back to U.S. 74 in eastern Union County.

“It is a way to avoid somewhere around the neighborhood of two dozen traffic signals between Marshville and I-485 in east Charlotte. And it's an option,” Dennis Jernigan, operations director of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, said.

The project is costing the North Carolina Department of Transportation $731 million. The state borrowed most of the money and it will be paid off mainly with revenue from fixed tolls, which will cost 14 to 15 cents a mile or $2.54 for the full route.

Drivers will pay automatically using electronic transponders they get from the Turnpike Authority, which operates the road. They’re available online or from the NC Quickpass store on Winston Avenue in Monroe.    

The road is the first with tolls in the Charlotte area. It’s expected to open on Tuesday, Nov. 27, after a mid-morning ribbon cutting.

The area’s next toll project will be the I-77 Express Lanes from Charlotte to Mooresville. Unlike the Monroe Expressway, that project is not being operated by the state, but by a private contractor: I-77 Mobility Partners. The company said this week it will not open toll lanes on the full 26 miles as expected by year’s end. Instead, only the northern section will open then, with the remainder opening by mid-2019.

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.