Transit official: I-77 won’t widen without tolls
by Staff Writer
Relieving congestion along Interstate 77 is a priority in the Lake Norman area, but if the road is going to get any additional lanes, drivers will have to pay for them.
That’s what Huntersville Transportation Planner Bill Coxe told the Cornelius Town Board at an Oct. 15 question-and-answer session. Louis Mitchell, of the N.C. Department of Transportation, and Bill Thunberg of the Lake Norman Transportation Committee also presented.
Mayor Jeff Tarte asked the likelihood of getting two general-purpose lanes, rather than toll lanes, installed from exit 23 to exit 36. Coxe said if the road is going to be widened in our lifetimes, it will require funding from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.
“I’ll bet you $10,000 out of my personal checking account that you won’t get (general purpose lanes) before 2035,” Coxe said.
The DOT plan proposes widening I-77 along three stretches in the north Mecklenburg and Lake Norman area, from exit 11 to 23, from exit 23 to 28 and from exit 28 to 36. According to DOT’s schedule, the middle and northern sections of the I-77 widening project would be done by late 2015 and the southern section in 2017.
The reason for installing high occupancy toll lanes over general-purpose lanes seems simple, but still difficult for some to buy into.
The DOT applied for the TIFIA government loan, which would generate $600-$700 million.
But to be eligible for the loan, the DOT has to pledge a revenue stream to repay it. Toll lanes will provide that revenue.
“I would support HOT lanes being the only lanes added to our area in the future, because of what it does from a business model,” Coxe said.
Town board members asked why it’s necessary to create only HOT lanes.
“If we do have a general purpose lane, that would be considered a revenue affecting addition,” Mitchell said. “If we affect their profit, we would have to pay them additional capital for their loss in revenue.”
Or, more simply, if there are more general lanes, fewer people will pay to use the toll lanes.
Click here to read an open letter to area I-77 drivers by guest editor Kurt Naas