After years of construction, delays, fines, all I-77 express lanes open

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After four years of construction, all the sections of the Interstate 77 express lanes opened early Sunday morning.

Drivers are now able to use all 26 miles of the express lanes. The lanes stretch from I-277 in Charlotte to Mooresville.

“This section of the express lanes is new, so it will take time for drivers to get used to the new lanes. We encourage drivers who choose to use the lanes to allow extra time to get used to the new travel option," said Jen Thompson with NCDOT. "Although the lanes are open, there may still be some work going on in this area, so drivers need to use caution."

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Officials said drivers will have the option of using the express lanes or the general-purpose lanes.

They said there are the same number of free, general-purpose lanes, and there will be signs a quarter-mile ahead of each segment of the toll lanes that show the rate drivers would pay.

Officials said the tolls will shift to dynamic pricing Dec. 1, changing as often as every five minutes. They said the price will depend on the segment length, time of day and demand for the express lanes.

The trip is free if you have three people in the car and if you switch on your HOV.

Drivers can learn more about the rates here.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation said Cintra will still face $30,000 a day in fines because, despite the lanes opening, there is still work going on with the project. So far, the fines have added to over $6.6 million.

It is unknown when the project will officially wrap up.

“The little bit they opened ahead of time, we saw a big difference in the traffic pattern, so we’re happy with it. It’s good," driver Keith Rericha said.

According to officials, average speeds in October increased during morning rush hour by 14 percent and by 17 percent during afternoon rush hour, compared to pre-opening speeds in October 2018.

Drivers can get an NC Quick Pass to pay for the tolls. If drivers don’t have one, a camera will take a picture of their license plate and a bill will be sent to them in the mail.

“Since I-77 Express opened on June 1 in the Lake Norman area, more than 2.7 million trips have been taken on the express lanes by over 515,000 different vehicles,” Javier Tamargo, CEO of I-77 Mobility Partners, said. “We are proud to make this private investment to develop the first managed lanes in North Carolina."

"Through partnership with NCDOT and Sugar Creek Construction, we are able to deliver this project and other infrastructure improvements along the existing portion of I-77 sooner than traditional funding would have allowed for the State of North Carolina and motorists. I-77 Express adds a travel option to a key interstate corridor and a new component to the Charlotte region’s comprehensive transportation network," Tamargo said.

Despite the toll lanes opening, Huntersville police are issuing a warning to drivers to pay attention and take your time around unpaved lanes, particularly along Interstate 485 outer to the I-77 north ramp. 

There are signs posted in the area about uneven pavement and police said there have been at least five motorcycle crashes this week, including one fatality. 

Last week the Huntersville Police Department said, "The uneven pavement continues north past the Hambright Rd exit. At least five motorcycles crashed this week in this area including a brutal fatality and a near fatality today. Spread the word! It is extremely dangerous."

The fatal wreck happened on Nov. 9 when a rider lost control of his motorcycle and was ejected into traffic. 

Police are asking drivers to take another route.

(Watch the video below as Channel 9's Gina Esposito breaks down why police are asking drivers to take alternate routes around this area.)

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