Widen I-77 Preps for Legal Fight with NCDOT Over I-77 Toll Lanes

Cities strive to make traveling as efficient for their citizens as possible, but making decisions to meet this goal often comes with legal battles.  After the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) pitched the Charlotte City Council on the proposed I-77 tollway lanes, tensions have been rising between NCDOT and the Widen I-77 group.  The issue at hand is whether the 26-mile project should be to make more general lanes, or if it should attach a toll to a portion of the lanes.

Details of the managed-lane project

The NCDOT is pushing to privatize the I-77 project that will stretch from the Brookshire Freeway (Exit 11) in Mecklenburg County to N.C. 150 (Exit 36) in Iredell County.  According to the NCDOT, partnering with the Spanish company Cintra will allow them to begin the project now instead of waiting up to 20 years to save the funds to add general lanes.

The private-public pairing plans to add two lanes in each direction from Uptown to Cornelius, and then one lane in both directions to Mooresville.  The current HOV lanes will also be converted in the process.  Some of the lanes will have a toll attached, and some will continue to be free, general purpose lanes.  NCDOT and Cintra estimate the project to cost $655 million.

NCDOT states case for privatizing tollway

The NCDOT estimates the massive project will only cost the state $88 million.  If the tollway is a complete failure, the most the state would be responsible for would be a total of $163 million.  The financial break has been one of the biggest factors explaining the private-public partnership.

A Cintra subsidiary would then set the price and collect the tolls under the 50-year contract.  Although another Cintra subsidiary went bankrupt managing an Indiana tollway, the NCDOT points out that the U.S. has 24 similar managed lane projects and none of them have gone bankrupt.

Widen I-77 group opposes plan

Citizens group known as Widen 1-77 has recently retained legal counsel to possibly seek an injunction against the NCDOT/Cintra project.  Widen I-77 opposes tolls along I-77 that will pull approximately $13 billion–according to NCDOT estimates–from the local economy over the 50 contract years.  The group also dislikes the “congestion pricing” these tolls will have.  Pricing would change throughout the day based on demand, so drivers would not know how much it would cost them until the last minute.  The Widen I-77 organizer, Kurt Naas, has predicted that the toll price could be as much as $20 for a roundtrip from Charlotte to Moorseville.

Widen I-77 group has proposed that the state instead use the $88 million to add one general lane from Huntersville to Moorseville since the addition would not cost much more than that.

Although the first contracts have been signed between NCDOT and Cintra, Widen I-77 appears to be prepping for a legal battle to keep the project from being finalized.  What are your thoughts regarding the I-77 project?  Do you think the toll lanes are the best way to go, or do you think they should widen I-77 with more general use lanes?  Let us know in the comments.


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons