Plans for widening I-77 in the works
by Staff Writer
Lake Norman transportation leaders have concerns about the financing for High Occupancy Toll lanes proposed for Interstate 77.
HOT lanes encourage carpooling by charging drivers without passengers. Rates rise during peak driving times to keep traffic flowing. Electronic billboards will alert drivers to changing rates.
“If you’re charging people to get in the lane, you have to treat them like customers and give them value for something they’re paying for,” Huntersville transportation planner Bill Coxe said. “And that’s a predictable trip time.”
Coxe said he’s only familiar with HOT lanes that are managed under public guidelines, not public-private partnerships as proposed for I-77.
Rates will have to be set so they generate revenue, Coxe said. The contract with the private sector is proposed for 50 years.
Transportation leaders are also concerned how the Red Line Regional Rail project will affect HOT lanes.
Davidson Planning Manager Lauren Blackburn said when the widening of I-77 was first discussed, hopes were the Red Line would be operating, but that appears less likely.
“Keeping an eye on the impact of rail is important,” Blackburn said. It’s unclear if rail ridership would affect HOT lane driver numbers, increasing the cost of the lanes and decreasing profits.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has laid out plans for two HOT lanes in each direction of I-77, from I-277/Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 28 in Cornelius. The project would be broken into three segments, with the 14.9 miles from I-85 to Exit 28 most likely to be constructed first, Coxe said.
The lanes stop at Exit 28, rather than extending to Exit 36 in Mooresville because no one knows how to deal with the widening of the causeways on I-77 that go over Lake Norman, Coxe said.
Leaders want to open I-77 widening plans up for public discussion by the end of the month.
“This does speak to the number one concern of residents and businesses in the region,” said Bill Thunberg, executive director for the Lake Norman Transportation Commission. “We need to make sure the public is heard from.”