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Board OKs $47M To Convert I-77 Shoulders To Rush-Hour Lanes

Shoulder lanes are used in Europe and some U.S. states, including I-66 in Virginia.
FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION
Shoulder lanes are used in Europe and some U.S. states, including I-66 in Virginia.

Updated July 19, 2019
The idea of converting the shoulders of Interstate 77 in the Lake Norman area into travel lanes lanes at rush hour is a step closer to happening. The area's transportation planning organization approved re-allocating $47 million to the project at its meeting Wednesday night. 

The Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, or CRTPO, also approved adding the project to the proposed 2020-2029 State Transportation Improvement Program.   

The proposal calls for allowing traffic at rush hours to use the shoulders between exits on I-77 from Interstate 485 in Huntersville to Exit 36 in Mooresville.  It's one of the main ideas that came out of a series of meetings last year between Lake Norman officials who oppose the I-77 toll lane project and NCDOT officials.

At meetings last year, NCDOT officials said the possible shoulder lane project could be implemented in phases. The practice is already used elsewhere, including Interstate 66 in Virginia and Interstate 85 in Georgia, NCDOT says. 

The CRTPO board on Wednesday approved reallocating $47 million in federal funding from eight bicycle and pedestrian projects and 12 roadway projects in the Charlotte region.  NCDOT has identified other funding that would allow all those projects to move forward.  "It is an exercise in accounting," NCDOT engineer Scott Cole told CRTPO members at the meeting. 

Construction could begin next spring or summer, he said.  It's not clear when the lanes would be open.  

The project still needs environmental approvals from CRTPO this fall. 

CONTRACTOR 'DISAPPOINTED'

Cole said NCDOT has not discussed the project yet with I-77 Mobility Partners, the contractor that operates the toll lanes under a 50-year contract with the state.  Shoulder lanes could draw traffic away from the toll lanes and reduce the company's toll revenues.  But NCDOT believes the project will not trigger any litigation. 

"We believe our contract protects us with (I-)77 Mobility Partners. And we knew that the contract would stand on its own. And this would be a sparate and different project," Cole said. 

But in a statement Friday from spokeswoman Jean Leier, the company said it doesn't like the plan: 

"We are very disappointed by the CRTPO’s decision to authorize changes to the use of outside shoulders along the I-77 managed lanes corridor. As seen in the first month of I-77 Express operations, the new lanes have presented motorists with an increasingly popular travel option along the corridor.  The presence of the express lanes is also increasing travel speeds and reducing drive times in the general purpose lanes. The NCDOT proposal tries to address issues that the express lanes are already visibly improving.  Furthermore, pursuant to the Comprehensive Agreement [the contract with NCDOT], modifying the outside shoulders adjacent to the general purpose lanes to accept general purpose lane traffic is only permitted with fair compensation."

A 2018 presentation to Lake Norman officials showed potential segments for shoulder lanes at rush hour.
Credit NCDOT
A 2018 presentation to Lake Norman officials showed potential segments for shoulder lanes at rush hour.