9 Investigates: I-77 express lanes could cost drivers more than a simple toll

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Some are calling it atrocious, even disgusting. Channel 9 has uncovered new information showing the company behind the Interstate 77 toll lanes project has been suing drivers for damaged property or lost revenue after crashes.

Since fully opening in November 2019, the I-77 express lanes have provided traffic relief to drivers who are able to pay for it.

The highly scrutinized project by I-77 Mobility Partners has been controversial from inception, but it’s the legal action being taken by the company that Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy can’t believe.

“I think it is disturbing, candidly, disgusting,” Commissioner Gilroy said.

According to an incident report from the highway patrol, a driver was traveling north on I-77 near Davidson in October 2020 and failed to slow down, striking another vehicle that wasn’t moving. The report says the SUVs were partially in the toll lane, so they had to shut it down while first responders cleared the scene.

This type of minor crash is fairly common, but what makes this case unusual is what happened 22 months later.

Channel 9 found a civil lawsuit filed by the company that runs the toll lanes. It says one of the drivers was “careless and negligent” and, as a result, the company “lost revenue” and “incurred expenses clearing the collision.”

I-77 Mobility Partners sued the driver seeking compensation and damages “not exceeding $15,000,″ plus attorney’s fees and interest.

Commissioner Gilroy says it doesn’t matter who is at fault; it is inappropriate for a company like I-77 Mobility Partners to sue a driver like this.

“To go after individuals in what may be their worst day on Earth, to try to get money from them from families, I think it is awful,” he said.

Channel 9 reached out to I-77 Mobility Partners multiple times about this particular lawsuit. The company said it doesn’t comment on legal proceedings. We learned they have since dismissed the case.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham, who has been an outspoken critic of tolls, said she has never heard of anything like this.

“I have never seen any report that whatever state that is, or city or municipality, was going to take action against the drivers,” she said. “That’s the cost of doing business.”

The North Carolina Department of Transportation said the department has not filed any civil lawsuits to recover from damages to state property in the past three years. In addition, the NC Turnpike Authority has not pursued damages for lost toll revenue.

Cotham calls the practice atrocious.

“It makes me just furious,” she said.

Channel 9 has been reaching out to I-77 Mobility Partners for months.

Late Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson told Channel 9 that two other civil lawsuits filed for damage to their property are being dismissed because the drivers’ insurance companies have agreed to pay.

“Something else to bear in mind, I-77 Mobility Partners promptly repairs the damage from more than 60 accidents a month on the I-77 Express corridor,” a spokesperson said. “In almost all those instances in which I-77 Mobility Partners is able to identify a responsible driver, the cost of the repairs is resolved amicably between I-77 Mobility Partners and the driver’s insurance companies. If the damage was caused by a hit-and-run driver, I-77 Mobility Partners alone bears the cost of the repairs.”

The now-dismissed lawsuit from the crash in October 2020 claimed the driver they sued caused the wreck on I-77 by not slowing down. But according to the highway patrol’s incident report, she was actually stopped and was the one hit by another vehicle. Her attorney declined to comment.

(WATCH BELOW: Charlotte-area leaders discuss I-77 toll lanes to South Carolina)