One of the big questions about the North Carolina Department of Transportation's I-77 toll lane project north of Charlotte is how much will the tolls cost? Expect an answer in two weeks at a public hearing on the rates.
Ever since officials first talked about toll lanes on I-77, north Mecklenburg commuters have wondered how much they'll have to pay for a faster ride to and from Charlotte. Now, with the lanes scheduled to open by year's end, a public hearing on the rates is planned for Thursday, Sept. 13, in Huntersville.
It's a requirement of NCDOT's contract with I-77 Mobility Partners, a subsidiary of Spanish construction giant Cintra. The meeting will include a presentation on how the tolls work and the initial toll rates. Then citizens will have a chance to speak.
Critics like Kurt Naas of the anti-toll group Widen I-77 aren't expecting much.
"I don't know how terribly newsworthy it's going to be," Naas said. "It's here's what we're going to set the toll rates, and that's what you're going to live with, so, that's what this is an exercise in."
I-77 Mobility Partners has agreed to keep tolls fixed for the first six months. After that, they'll vary according to the amount of traffic in the express lanes – and there’s no ceiling on the rates. The contractor is required to maintain a minimum speed of 45 mph in the express lanes, so too many cars would slow things down. Higher prices are a sort of free-market way to regulate traffic in the lanes.
I-77 Mobility Partners hasn't said how much it expects to charge. But a preliminary study in 2012 projected tolls of $9 to $11 for the whole 26 miles at peak times — less for a shorter commute.
NCDOT has pledged to negotiate discounts for frequent users, but there's no word yet on whether that will happen and how much it might be.