by: Jim Bradley Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The plan to build toll lanes on Interstate 77 has taken a major step forward.
The state now has a bidder to build a 26-mile road expansion from uptown Charlotte up to Mooresville.
I-77 north on any night can be a nightmare.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation has taken a big step to fix it, announcing it’s approved a public-private partnership to put in a new system, including toll lanes, for smooth travel north.
Even on its best days, taking I-77 north of town can be a crowded, congested exercise in frustration.
The NCDOT said it could start by the end of the year, adding a flexible toll lane from uptown to Mooresville.
“If you have somewhere you have to be, you've got a doctor appointment, you need to get to school, there's an emergency. This is to guarantee a more reliable travel time,” said spokeswoman Jen Thompson.
Buses, motorcycles and carpoolers will be able to use the new lanes for free. Everyone else will pay a toll that will go up or down depending on congestion.
For Charlotte, improving traffic flow is an economic development tool. Without it, experts said it's tougher to attract new business.
“Time is money and when business people are stuck in traffic or when products are stuck in traffic, then it's costly,” said Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte Chamber.
The contractor working with the state will actually pay for most of the $600 million cost for design and construction. In exchange, it gets to keep the money generated from tolls.
However improvements happen, drivers said they're anxious to see new lanes and new hope for I-77.
“We’ve been needing it. There's a lot of congestion. Can't do nothing but help,” said driver Larry Puckett.
The plan to have a contractor pay for I-77 improvements up front will save the state a huge amount of money.
Instead of paying $170 million, NCDOT will pay only $88 million and the area could start to see actual construction on I-77 by the end of this year.