State transportation officials say they need more time to plan how to convert highway shoulders into extra lanes at rush-hour on I-77 in north Mecklenburg and south Iredell counties.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation plans to spend $47 million to improve shoulders along the highway between I-485 in north Charlotte and Exit 36 in Mooresville. The idea for an extra lane for local travel between exits grew out of meetings two years ago between the DOT and Lake Norman officials who oppose the privately-operated toll lanes on the highway.
Construction was supposed to start this spring or summer. But the DOT wants to delay funding from this fiscal year to next. A DOT spokeswoman said construction now is scheduled for late this year. The state Board of Transportation could vote on the change next month.
Meanwhile, there's still a question of whether the project could trigger a legal dispute with the toll-lane contractor, I-77 Mobility Partners. Spokeswoman Jean Leier said this week that under its contract with NCDOT, the shoulder lanes are only permitted with "fair compensation."
“Our position has not changed since the idea for peak period shoulder use was introduced last year," Leier said in an email. "Data has shown drivers benefit from I-77 Express. I-77 Express has increased travel speeds and reduced drive times in the general purpose lanes since opening. The NCDOT proposal tries to address issues that the express lanes are already improving.
"Furthermore, pursuant to the Comprehensive Agreement, modifying the outside shoulders adjacent to the general purpose lanes to accept general purpose lane traffic is only permitted with fair compensation,” she added.
NCDOT officials have said they consider the shoulder-lanes to be a separate project and that the contract protects NCDOT from legal action.
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