by Josh Lanier
CORNELIUS – Work to extend Interstate 77’s high-occupancy-vehicle lanes into Cornelius and convert them to toll lanes could begin as early as 2014, officials said last week.
Huntersville Transportation Planner Bill Coxe told members of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission the $64 million project would create the high-occupancy toll lanes and extend them exit 28 at Catawba Avenue. That would make I-77 at least three lanes wide south of that exit in both directions.
Construction should last about three years.
The idea of converting high-occupancy to toll has become chic among transportation planners in recent years. Toll lanes are popular with cash-strapped governments looking for new ways to pay for roads and promote mass transit and car-pooling.
Charlotte Area Transit System buses and cars with at least one passenger still could use the lanes at no cost. Lone drivers would pay a fee, most likely monitored by overhead, electronic toll collectors. Coxe did not say if state officials have set the toll fee.
Planners expect the toll – or “managed” – lane would alleviate traffic on the remaining lanes.
“If you just add another lane, once it fills up, then what are you going to do?” he opined at the meeting Wednesday, May 11, at Cornelius Town Hall.
Driving south on I-77, the toll would apply from exit 28 to 5th street, Coxe said. Heading north, it would begin shortly after the Interstate 85 interchange, where the high-occupancy lane begins now.
But the goal for engineers is to extend that toll lane into Mooresville, though the cost and timetable for that northern expansion is unknown.
Officials first unveiled plans for a toll lane for I-77 in April 2010. The Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization has approved the plans and future extension of the lane into Mooresville.
But stretching those toll lanes into Mooresville could be tricky. Engineers must find a way to expand the four-lane causeways over Lake Norman without endangering the environment. If they can’t, planners will need to conduct more lengthy and costly studies to find the least harmful approach for expanding the interstate, Coxe said.
Coxe wasn’t sure when an environmental impact study would begin.