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NCDOT Says It Hasn't Decided On Extension For I-77 Toll Project

The Nov. 1 deadline for opening the Interstate 77 Express Lanes north of Charlotte is just days away. But state transportation officials say they have not decided whether to grant the contractor's request for an extension. The company blames additions to the contract for delays, and says that's also adding to its costs.  

Fifteen miles of the project's northern section between Huntersville and Mooresville opened in June, about five months behind schedule. I-77 Mobility Partners is building the road, and has until Friday to finish the nine remaining miles — or face fines of $10,000 a day for any unopened sections. 

A state Department of Transportation spokesman confirmed Monday that no decision has been made on the extension.

I-77 Mobility Partners says it still hopes to open the lanes sometime this fall. In a statement Monday, spokeswoman Jean Leier attributed delays to additional work.

"With the flexibility of a design-build project, changes can occur during construction," Leier said. She said some of the major changes that contributed to schedule and budget changes include: Rehabilitating the roadway, funded by NCDOT; the direct connectors at Lakeview and Hambright Roads, funded by CRTPO (Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization); and the I-85 direct connectors and the additional exits/entrances in the Lake Norman area, funded by I-77 Mobility Partners.

She said some work, such as paving, will continue after the southern section of I-77 Express opens.

"I-77 Mobility Partners has made every effort to work with our partners in good faith and uphold our agreements along the way," Leier said.

Cost Rising

Costs for the toll lane project have risen from original estimates, according to the company. I-77 Mobility Partners has invested an additional $150 million in the project, bringing the total cost to about $800 million, Chief Operating Officer David Hannon told WFAE. 

Leier said I-77 Mobility Partners, a subsidiary of Spanish construction giant Cintra, will pay the extra cost. 

The company, its lenders and investors are paying most of the express lanes' cost. NCDOT is putting in $95 million and could pay another $75 million in the coming years if toll revenues fall short. 

Improved Traffic Flow

Drivers have been using the lanes open so far, and the company says commuters have seen improved speeds on I-77 at rush hour. 

Interstate 77 is one of two toll projects to open this year in the Charlotte area. The other is the Monroe Expressway, a full toll road that takes drivers around crowded U.S. 74 in Union County. Over the past year, 153,000 NC Quick Pass toll transponders have been distributed to drivers in the Charlotte area, according to the North Carolina Turnpike Authority.

This article has been updated to add the sources of funding for additions to the project.  

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