NCDOT officials told local business and government leaders in Cornelius this Wednesday they are still studying potential changes to the $670 million I-77 toll lanes project from Charlotte to Mooresville. Some of those leaders said afterward they aren't hearing anything new.
The meeting of the DOT's I-77 Local Advisory Committee was supposed to be an update on progress toward changes in the unpopular project. But DOT officials say they have yet to begin negotiating anything with toll-lane builder and operator I-77 Mobility Partners.
That disappointed John Hettwer, a local business owner and head of the I-77 Business Plan, a group that opposes the project.
"I guess I was hopeful that I'd have more definitive answers up here, other than another slide of 'we're still looking into it,'" Hettwer said afterward.
Hettwer and other opponents want the state to cancel the contract and take over the toll lanes. But Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon told the group last year the state can't do that.
Trogdon was ill and spoke only briefly by telephone at Wednesday's meeting. But other DOT officials said they are studying options, including:
- Converting one planned toll lane to a free lane
- Allowing cars to use highway shoulders at rush hour
- Letting trucks use the toll lanes
- And setting up a frequent user rebate program
Some changes will need legislative approval. NCDOT says it hopes to begin negotiations with the contractor this spring, and to present changes to the legislature this summer.
During the meeting, officials also acknowledged that wrecks in the I-77 construction zone are up 69 percent from the three years before the project started in 2015. That included 10 fatalities since 2015, two more than the three years before construction.
Construction on the project has been delayed about 10 months. NCDOT blames the delay on work added to the contract and the need to completely resurface the highway. But some local leaders questioned that.
At this point, toll lanes between Mooresville and I-485 in north Charlotte are expected to open this spring. Lanes from I-485 into uptown Charlotte are supposed to open by the end of October.