Everyone agrees we need a solution to Interstate 77 traffic in the Lake Norman area. Rush hour is unbearable for those stuck on I-77 north of Exit 23. An accident on I-77 brings gridlock to N.C. 115 and the main streets of our north Mecklenburg towns. Even though the state has ranked I-77 widening as the second highest priority, it and the federal government have said that the widening of I-77 is unlikely to be accomplished any time in the near future (a decade from now is the best guess). There is no money, according to the government, for this essential infrastructure improvement.
Raleigh and Charlotte receive hundreds of millions of dollars for roads and mass transit while we patiently wait our turn. Lake Norman residents pay gas and sales tax so that the state and Charlotte/CATS can build highly subsidized trains and other road works.
How can I-77 be widened north of I-485 during these times of fiscal austerity? The NCDOT with the acquiescence of the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Lake Norman Transportation Commission are on the final leg of implementing a managed lane plan funded and built through an innovative public-private partnership (P3).
This plan has one good point – we could have one or two additional lanes of pavement on I-77 that extend from Exit 23 to Exit 36 by the end of 2015. The bad points include the cost to commuters and taxpayers in Lake Norman. A higher cost is built into the plan due to high occupancy toll (HOT) lane specific requirements and the otherwise unnecessary improvements. Additional cost is included to cover the risk associated with the private sector building and operating this HOT lane solution.
A group of citizens, WidenI77.org, has formed to challenge the NCDOT and our local governments to do this widening using a more traditional funding method or through a strictly public endeavor.
The traditional approach to solving the congestion problems would cost about $130 million. The NCDOT HOT lane plan will cost more than $540 million and be paid for by those drivers using I-77 between Mooresville and Charlotte. This plan is likely to be approved by August unless local leaders actively oppose it.
Learn more about the P3 HOT Lane concept and its impact on Lake Norman Citizens at www.WidenI77.org and at their public information session Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. at Cornelius Town Hall.
– Vince Winegardner, Davidson