HUNTERSVILLE ­– A top state transportation official told Lake Norman residents, business owners and town officials last week that tolling is the most viable option for handling congestion along Interstate 77.

“We believe tolling is an option where we can leverage dollars to get greater benefits,” Trogdon, North Carolina Department of Transportation chief operating officer, told the crowd inside Huntersville Town Hall.

He said projections show that the state is expected to experience 50 percent growth over the next 20-25 years, which will not be uniformly spread out across the state.

The North Mecklenburg region is expected to experience a good amount of growth, Trogdon said, but the majority will be at the Interstate 85 corridor from South Carolina up to Raleigh, with nodes of growth in various North Carolina cities.

“It’s sort of the good news, bad news,” he said. “In order for people to want to come, you have to have the opportunity, but in order to keep the opportunity, you’ve got to develop a plan and make sure you are addressing those needs.”

In order to handle the growth, Trogdon said the NCDOT is projecting to need $28 billion to upgrade 75 percent of the 1,200 miles of interstate roads in North Carolina that need work.

Of that $28 billion, $4.4 billion is needed for I-95 alone over the 30 years.

These improvements will take 132 years to pay off, assuming there isn’t any inflation, he said. If you added modest inflation, he said it makes it a 150-year project.

If NCDOT spent no money on any federal or state improvements, including bridge work and intrastate roads - while only working on the interstates - then it will still be a 40-year project.

“Doing nothing on the rest of the network is not a plan for success,” Trogdon said. “So what do we do different using new tools to better address congestion and capacity challenges?”

This is why, the official said, the NCDOT is considering tolling and public private partnerships along I-77.

“Instead of getting a miles worth of improvement with my cash, now with tolling,” Trogdon said. “I get three miles worth of improvement and be able to really address the challenges of mobility that we will see in the future.”

This gathering was part of an information session with NCDOT officials on Feb. 27 to answer questions that many in the Lake Norman residents are posing about HOT lanes on I-77. Cornelius Mayor Lynette Rinker said the meeting gave citizens a chance to direct specific questions to stae officials. 

“You have the opportunity to speak directly with people that have the information,” Rinker said. “rather than sitting through a PowerPoint presentation of which maybe 99 percent you don’t care about or you already know.”

Three booths were set-up to handle different aspects of the project, including operations and mechanics of HOT lanes, financing and how P3s work and the overall scope of the project.

“Transportation is the backbone of North Carolina’s economy,” Trogdon said. “and we are going to face some significant challenges.”