NCDOT considers allowing drivers onto I-77 shoulders to ease traffic congestion

NCDOT considers allowing drivers onto I-77 shoulders to ease traffic congestion

MECKLENBURG, N.C. — Drivers who are tired of traffic on Interstate 77 could have a new route soon that doesn’t include tolls.

“I like to call it cheating and using the toll lanes to get home faster but it is starting to cost quite a bit,” said driver Kathleen Gauthier.

North Carolina Department of Transportation crews have been spotted surveying segments of the interstate in the Lake Norman area. They’re deciding whether to let people drive on the shoulder.

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“When 77 shuts down, the area becomes molasses,” said Dr. Mile Miltich, a Cornelius commissioner and the chair of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization. They approved $47 million for the project in summer 2019.

The plan is to extend the exit lane from one interchange to go all the way to the next exit lane, according to Miltich.

This could be a huge convenience to drivers who are just heading a couple of exits away in the Lake Norman area. Drivers may not have to merge into the general traffic lanes.

“It might clean up some of the congestion,” said Grant Izokovic.

I-77 Mobility Partners, the group behind the tolls is saying because of their contract with North Carolina, a project to give drivers another free option will come at a cost.

In a statement, they said, “Modifying the outside shoulders adjacent to the general-purpose lanes to accept general-purpose lane traffic is only permitted with fair compensation.”

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Miltich told Channel 9′s Allison Latos he believes by allowing drivers to only use the shoulders during “peak” hours, they may be able to avoid that contract clause and payment.

Officials said they still haven’t determined what the peak hours would be.

Surveying should begin to wrap up this spring but there’s no timeline for when construction on the shoulder would start.

If the plan becomes a reality, it won’t be a perfect solution to traffic because if a car breaks down on the shoulder, it would block the new lane.