Relief for drivers frustrated by Interstate 77's rush hour logjam may be coming sooner -- and bigger -- than expected.
Engineers with North Carolina's Department of Transportation met with potential investors and contractors Thursday who would help put the construction of toll lanes on the fast track.
"Hopefully we'll have an active contract by the end of the year," said Resident Engineer Barry Moose, who would oversee the project that would be only the second in the state funded by private investors.
The project was initially planned for 15 miles between Interstate 85 and exit 28 in Cornelius, but Moose says they could extend it to go from the Brookshire Freeway to exit 36 in Mooresville.
The widening would incorporate HOV lanes already in place, and add two extra lanes the rest the way -- widening I-77 to four lanes.
Drivers who want to use the new lanes to avoid congestion would pay a toll electronically.
Moose didn't want to put a dollar figure on the project but estimated it could be between $350 million and $500 million, money that investors would recoup through the tolls.
It will be only the second project built with private investment in the state, and has allowed the DOT to go ahead with plans even when the state is still recovering from the recession.
Moose says the project should be finished in three years.
Drivers who make the trek up I-77 regularly said it can't come too soon.
"That'll be a blessing to most everybody," said Chuck Tyndall, who drives I-77 almost every day to check on his furniture stores.