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NCDOT Rejects Extension For I-77 Toll Lanes; Fines Start Friday

Fifteen miles of the I-77 Express Lanes opened Saturday between Huntersville and Mooresville.
David Boraks
Fifteen miles of the I-77 Express Lanes opened June 1 between Huntersville and Mooresville. But lanes still aren't open from Huntersville to Charlotte.

State transportation officials have rejected a contractor's request to extend the deadline for opening the toll lanes on I-77 north of Charlotte. That means contractor I-77 Mobility Partners will have to pay penalties of $10,000 a day for each incomplete segment beginning Friday. 

The northern 15 miles of the I-77 Express Lanes project opened June 1, but work continues on the remaining nine miles between Huntersville and Charlotte.

The project is divided into three sections and all are unfinished, which means fines would be $30,000 a day, according to an NCDOT spokeswoman.  The sections are I-277 to I-85, I-85 to Cornelius, and Cornelius to Mooresville. 

The company has blamed the delays on additions to the contract, and says it still hopes to open the remaining segments this fall.

In a statement earlier this week, spokeswoman Jean Leier listed several holdups: 

  • Rehabilitating the roadway, funded by NCDOT;
  • Direct connectors from the toll lanes at Lakeview and Hambright Roads, funded by CRTPO (Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization);
  • I-85 direct connectors, and additional toll lane exits and entrances in the Lake Norman area, funded by I-77 Mobility Partners.

"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. 
NCDOT said the company has the right to appeal. 

State Sen. Natasha Marcus, who represents North Mecklenburg, said in an email: "In my October 10 letter, I urged DOT to not let Cintra off the hook and to incentivize them to make a serious effort to complete this project without additional, unnecessary delay.  This decision does that." 

The company did not meet the project's original deadline in January, but NCDOT allowed the company to avoid penalties.  A DOT spokeswoman said at the time that work was added to the contract, extending the completion date. 

I-77 Mobility Partners, a subsidiary of Spanish construction company Cintra, is building the 26 mile project under a contract with NCDOT.   Cintra and private investors are paying most of the cost, originally projected at $650 million. Project officials said recently the cost has risen by about $150 million, to about $800 million. 

Construction began in 2015, and I-77 Mobility Partners will operate the toll lanes for 50 years. 

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.