|Is a possible extension of the I-77 Express Toll Lanes in Charlotte in the works?|
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) recently received a bid from a yet-to-be-named company proposing to extend the I-77 toll lanes southwards. This extension would run from where the toll lanes currently end at the Brookshire Freeway (NC 16/US 277) to the South Carolina State Line.
There are not a lot of details about the proposal - from the possible cost, design, and who submitted the proposal. NCDOT received the proposal unsolicited, and DOT officials shared general details during a meeting of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO) this past Wednesday.
The plan would be a public-private partnership, but beyond that, not much more is known. The 14-member CRTPO board voted 8 to 6 in favor of studying the proposal and later recommendations. They also asked NCDOT to provide more information about this bid. Currently, there is no programming for the proposed toll lanes. Further, North Carolina state law would require CRTPO to request and approve the toll lane project before any project programming could begin.
Over the last decade, toll toads in Charlotte have been a heated issue. The I-77 Toll Lane project from Charlotte north to Lake Norman was one of the most controversial and heated local topics. (One that I wish I could have covered in detail - but kids, grad school, stuff like that.)
The I-77 Toll Lanes was one of the issues that cost Republican NC Governor Pat McCrory his re-election in 2016. A significant number of Republicans in Northern Mecklenburg County endorsed his challenger, current Governor Roy Cooper, during that election cycle.
Further, delays and mishandling in construction didn't allow for the toll lanes to fully open until 2019. There were contract disputes, threats to void the contract, and much more! (I'm telling you; I should have paid closer attention to it.)
The unsolicited proposal to NCDOT caused unease with several CRTPO members; however, they all admit that I-77 from Exit 11 (Brookshire/I-277) south to the NC/SC state line needs to be widened/improved in some way. It is currently a three-lane in each direction freeway that frequently gets clogged.
At this point, the proposal is just that - a proposal. However, it's been a rumored possibility for a few years. Whether or not CRTPO gives the idea its blessing is unknown. But many community leaders on the CRTPO board still have a bad taste in their mouths after Northern Mecklenburg's toll experience. As a result, it may take a whole lot of mouthwash to make these toll lanes a reality.