Project Overview and Purpose
The Charlotte region is growing. Its urban population has increased 135 percent in the past 25 years alone, making it the 43rd largest urban area in the nation.
More people moving to the area mean more cars on the roadway. In particular, traffic on I-77 between I-85 and Iredell County has jumped more than 20 percent in the past five years, creating a congested commute for drivers during peak travel times. Traffic forecasts show the congestion will only get worse if no improvements are made.
The good news is the improvements are here. The I-77 Managed Lanes Project is the solution to the region’s current and future congestion problems.
The project will enhance 26 miles of I-77 from the Brookshire Freeway (Exit 11) in Mecklenburg County to N.C. 150 (Exit 36) in Iredell County, using managed lanes.
What will the Project Do?
The project will do two key things:
- Currently, I-77 has one High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane, commonly known as a carpool lane, in each direction within parts of the project’s boundaries. The project will convert those HOV lanes to managed lanes.
- Crews will also build a second managed lane alongside the converted HOV lane on I-77 North and South.
There will be two managed lanes on I-77 in each direction, except in the area between Exits 28 and 36. Here, one managed lane will be built in each direction.
The existing general purpose lanes will always remain free of charge. Crews will not add or take away any general purpose lanes as part of the project; however, they will resurface these lanes to preserve the pavement and provide motorists with a smoother ride.
Managed Lanes: The Power to Choose
Managed lanes are the key to unlocking congestion along the I-77 corridor. They offer drivers a choice – pay a toll and use the managed lanes to avoid travel delays, or continue driving on the general purpose lanes for free.
The power is entirely in the hands of the motorists. They can individually determine how valuable their time is, and decide if the time they will save is worth the cost of taking the managed lanes.
The drivers who choose not to ride on the managed lanes will still see a benefit. As other motorists opt to take the managed lanes, congestion on the general purpose lanes will lessen, making the commute more efficient for those relying on the free lanes, as well.
Speaking of free, there are several ways you can use the managed lanes without spending a dime. The managed lanes will be free of charge to:
- Carpoolers with three or more occupants, including the driver
By offering these options, we encourage drivers to take alternative forms of transportation, which will also help reduce congestion on the general purpose lanes.
North Carolina isn’t the only state investing in managed lanes as a way to alleviate traffic backups. California, Colorado, Texas, Virginia and others are successfully using them in urban areas to make travel more efficient for all drivers.
The Truth about Tolls
One of the biggest questions drivers have about the project is this: how much will it cost to drive on the managed lanes? The truth is we don’t know yet.
The toll rates have not been set. Our contract requires Cintra, the company we’ve contracted with to build and operate the managed lanes project as part of a public-private partnership, to hold public hearings. Citizens are encouraged to attend these meetings, so they can be part of the toll rate development process.
Ultimately, the market will drive the rates. Here’s why. Tolls will vary during the day and night to – as the name suggests – manage the number of vehicles in the lanes and ensure traffic remains free-flowing, even during the morning and evening rush hours. The price will be higher when traffic congestion increases, and lower during less congested periods. The general purpose lanes will still be available at no cost.
How Traffic will Flow
Along the 26-mile I-77 corridor, there will be several places where drivers can enter and exit the managed lanes. They include:
- I-77 at I-277 at the project’s southern end
- I-277 west of I-77, also at the southern end of the project
- I-77 between I-85 (Exit 13) and Sunset Road (Exit 16)
- I-77 between Sunset Road and Harris Boulevard (Exit 18)
- I-77 between Hambright Road and Gilead Road (Exit 23)
- I-77 between Sam Furr Road (Exit 25) and Westmoreland Road
- I-77 between Langtree Road (Exit 31) and Williamson Road (Exit 33)
The contract requires only one access point between Exits 13 and 18, but Cintra is proposing two – going above and beyond what was required. Cintra can recommend shifting these locations, but any change must be first approved by NCDOT and local stakeholders. Currently, Cintra is considering moving the access point between Exit 25 and Westmoreland Road to south of Exit 25, then adding another access point north of Westmoreland Road.
These points will give drivers multiple opportunities to decide if they want to take advantage of the time-saving benefits the managed lanes offer. They will also help ensure motorists can easily reach their destinations from the managed lanes.
Drivers can also count on the managed lanes to offer more reliable travel times than the general purpose lanes. By setting speed standards on the managed lanes, we can ensure traffic will flow at speeds of at least 45 mph during peak travel times, while vehicles on the general purpose lanes may be moving at a much slower pace.
We’ve worked with our local and federal partners for many years to make this managed lanes project a reality. This timeline shows the extensive steps we’ve taken to help bring the region a solution to the congestion on I-77.
- In 2007, NCDOT partnered with the South Carolina DOT, City of Charlotte DOT and other regional agencies in the Fast Lanes study. This report analyzed existing and planned highways in 10 counties to identify where managed lanes could help reduce congestion. The study identified the I-77 North corridor as a high priority.
- A feasibility study was conducted in 2009 to consider converting the existing HOV lanes on I-77 to managed lanes and extending the converted lanes to Catawba Avenue (Exit 28) in Cornelius.
- In 2011, NCDOT determined it would approach the project as a public-private partnership to leverage private funding to build and open the project sooner than with state funding.
- In July 2011, the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO) amended its 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), which included a project (I-5405) to create one managed lane in each direction on I-77.
- In 2012, NCDOT began exploring the use of managed lanes and variable tolling to address long-term congestion management in the corridor, minimizing public contributions and utilizing private capital.
- In June 2012, CRTPO amended its 2035 LRTP and 2012-2018 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) to include converting the existing HOV lanes to managed lanes, adding a second managed lane between I-85 (Exit 13) and I-485 (Exit 19), and building two new managed lanes between I-485 and Catawba Avenue.
- In May 2013, CRTPO again amended its 2035 LRTP and its 2012-2018 TIP to include two projects (I-3311C and I-4750AA), which would provide managed lanes along I-77 from I-277 (Brookshire Freeway) in Mecklenburg County to N.C. 150 (Exit 36) in Iredell County.
- Also in 2013, four potential bidders were shortlisted and participated in more than 70 meetings with NCDOT. These one-on-one meetings helped produce several drafts of the final contract documents. Each of the bidders conducted its own analysis to determine if it could meet contract requirements, while ensuring the long-term contract would generate enough revenue to offset the initial investment.
NCDOT stated its maximum contribution from traditional state funding would be $170 million. Bidders requested additional state and federal funds beyond that number and/or requested that some contract requirements be relaxed. NCDOT determined the public contribution was reasonable and would not be increased.
- Bids were due by March 31, 2014. The proposals were subjected to roughly 200 pass/fail criteria.
- Cintra was announced as the apparent best value proposer on April 11, 2014, with a total project investment of $655 million, of which only $88 million is contributed by NCDOT and federal funds.
To view the NCDOT documents associated with the project since its inception, visit our Connect page.
Cintra and our Public-Private Partnership
Our partnership with Cintra significantly speeds up the schedule to add more lanes on I-77. Without it, the state would not have sufficient funds to complete this project for at least 20 years. The P3 enables us to improve travel time on I-77 now by leveraging new funds through Cintra’s investment.
As the P3 process has evolved, we’ve engaged the community, as well as state and local leaders, to ensure this project is the most effective long-term solution for I-77. We’ve hosted public hearings, workshops, and meetings with town mayors, managers, planning organizations, businesses and local legislators.
We’ve also provided financial documents for the project to several agencies for careful review, including the State Treasurer’s Office and Local Government Commission, which includes the State Treasurer, State Auditor, Secretary of State and Secretary of Revenue.
As required by law, we’ve submitted reports to the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee and the Chairs of the Transportation Oversight Committees.
We are not relaxing protection of this investment and will still own the road. While Cintra will manage design, construction, finance and operation of the project, we will ensure standards set in the contract are met. Should Cintra default on the contract, the state will get the project for 50-60 cents on the dollar, and all future toll revenues. If revenues are dramatically less than project estimates, the state could contribute up to $75 million over the 50-year contract term. This is still less than the $170 million public contribution previously estimated.
Moving forward, design, permitting and other pre-construction activities will begin, and additional public meetings will be scheduled to discuss the project’s toll rates and methodology. We expect Cintra to secure funding by the end of this year. Design and construction are anticipated to take 3.5 years, with completion scheduled for 2018.
- Add more lanes along the I-77 corridor to help ease congestion
- Ensure this project integrates seamlessly with other projects along the corridor
- Use variable pricing for long-term congestion management
- Minimize the public’s contribution and financial burden of building the project
- Use private capital to allow for innovative financing approaches (public-private partnership)
- Establish operating speed standards on the managed lanes during morning and afternoon peak periods
- Achieve an average speed of 45 mph on the managed lanes (or 80 percent of current posted speed limit for general purpose lanes)
- Decreased fuel consumption and added time savings for drivers
- Increased incentive for motorists to carpool and take advantage of transit options
- Reliable, superior travel times on the managed lanes, especially during peak hours. This is a mandatory service over the life of the contract with Cintra.
- Revenue generation to help pay for critical congestion relief along I-77. The P3 enables NCDOT to address this immediate need and complete the project within four years instead of the estimated 20 years it would take to secure enough state funding to move forward.
The I-77 project is divided into three key sections:
Southern Section (I-3311-C)
This section extends from the Brookshire Freeway near Tryon Street onto I-77 North for about two miles, and along I-277 from I-77 to North Brevard Street in Uptown Charlotte. This portion of the project requires right-of-way acquisition, along with current HOV lane conversion and new managed lanes next to the existing general purpose lanes.
The design includes a bridge that would provide direct access from I-77 to I-277. The southbound lanes of I-77 that were narrowed during construction of the existing HOV lanes will also be widened, providing a total of two managed lanes in each direction.
Central Section (I-5405)
The central section begins at the I-85 interchange (Exit 13) and continues approximately 15 miles to Catawba Avenue (Exit 28) in Cornelius. It includes converting the existing HOV lanes to managed lanes, providing two managed lanes in each direction.
Northern Section (I-4750AA)
Beginning at the Catawba Avenue interchange and continuing approximately 9 miles to N.C. 150 (Exit 36) in Iredell County, this section will feature one managed lane in each direction. This section does not currently have HOV lanes.
Louis Mitchell, PE
Division 10 Engineer
- Email: Contact Us
- Phone: (704) 983-4400
- Address: 716 W. Main Street, Albemarle, NC 28001
Resources for Local Property Owners
In many cases, it is inevitable that a certain amount of private property must be acquired. The displacement of homes and businesses is minimized to the extent practicable. The following brochures will answer questions about this process.