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I-77 Work May Not End Till Summer; Contractor Targets Violators

Fifteen miles of the I-77 Express Lanes opened Saturday between Huntersville and Mooresville.
David Boraks
/
WFAE
All 26-miles of the I-77 Express lanes are now open, but construction work remains, resulting in daily fines for the contractor.

Final work on the I-77 Express toll lanes north of Charlotte likely won't be finished until this summer. Contractor I-77 Mobility Partners says cold winter weather has slowed final paving and other work. Meanwhile, the contractor also says it's introducing new technology to catch drivers who break the rules for using the toll lanes for free. 

The now $800 million project was supposed to be finished Nov. 1. Even though all lanes are now open, final paving, noise walls and other work remain. 

NCDOT is continuing to fine the company $30,000 a day until the work is completed. Those penalties now total just under $2.5 million.  

I-77 Mobility Partners spokeswoman Jean Leier said Friday that crews are trying to pave when they can. And she said they've recently gotten the OK from the state Department of Transportation to pave during weekend days. Until now, construction work has been limited to overnight. 

Meanwhile, Leier said workers have begun installing an automated "occupancy detection system" to check whether vehicles are obeying the rules that allow drives to use the lanes for free. 

There's no charge if you have at least three people in the car, and have an automated NC Quick Pass toll transponder that's switched to "high occupancy vehicle" status. But some drivers flip the switch even if they don't have three people, and that costs the contractor money.  

So the new system will use cameras to detect the number of people in the car, and compare it with each car's transponder settings.  (I-77 Mobility Partners says any images captured by its camera will blur faces for privacy.)  

Leier said workers are still installing the system, which then will be tested. She wasn't sure when it would start operating. 

The way it works right now, state troopers check compliance with the rule, along with speeding and other violations, State Highway Patrol spokesman Ray Pierce told WFAE in November

"There are gantries at several locations on the toll road," Pierce said. "And if a vehicle comes under that gantry and it is claiming to be an HOV subject or vehicle, then a red light will come on over that vehicle as they proceed under that gantry." 

Troopers park near the gantries and can see when the red light comes on. If they don't see at least three people in your car, they'll stop you and issue a warning.  But that may be all you get -- for now. 

Pierce said state law was written 15 years ago with two-person HOV lanes in mind, not the three now being used. He said legislation is needed before troopers can issue citations, which come with a $100 fine. 

"So, until that comes full circle and some of the general statutes change over to apply to these, then we're only doing basically written warnings and verbal warnings," he said. 

Leier said I-77 Express is cooperating with NCDOT in efforts to change the law.