Cintra 'disappointed' with plan to convert I-77 shoulders into lanes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization approved a $47 million plan that would allow drivers to drive on the shoulders of Interstate 77 from Interstate 485 to Mooresville when traffic is congested.

[Report: Nearly 200 more problems found in I-77 toll lane]

The extra lane would not be a toll lane.

The plan is to swap $47 million from other projects to the peak shoulder lanes.

The greenway and road projects will still happen on schedule, but their funding source has now changed.

Crews would harden parts of the shoulder between Exit 19 in Charlotte and Exit 35 in Mooresville.

Before that vote passed, the North Carolina Department of Transportation repeatedly assured CRTPO that shoulder hardening doesn't violate the state's contract with Cintra, the company building the toll lanes

Now Cintra is pushing back on NCDOT's claims.

"We are very disappointed by the CRTPO’s decision to authorize changes to the use of outside shoulders along the I-77 managed lanes corridor," Jean Leier, spokesperson for I-77 Express, said. "Pursuant to the Comprehensive Agreement, modifying the outside shoulders adjacent to the general-purpose lanes to accept general-purpose lane traffic is only permitted with fair compensation."

Cintra said based on the first month of operations, the presence of the express lanes is increasing travel speeds and reducing travel times in the general-purpose lanes.

"The NCDOT proposal tries to address issues that the express lanes are already visibly improving," Leier said.

Cornelius CRTPO representative Mike Miltich said Cintra's statement is "not surprising."

Miltich said the language of the contract allows for the state to harden the shoulders.

"It's not a general-purpose lane that is being constructed," Miltich said. "It is an extension of the on- and off-ramps, and it will only be used at certain times of the day."

The idea was proposed by the governor's I-77 advisory committee.

Former County Commissioner Jim Puckett, a member of the committee, said he is not worried about the project's future.

"The current secretary of transportation works for the governor, who was the former attorney general. I suspect they have a pretty good grasp of what the law is," Puckett said. "Anytime Cintra is not happy, I'm happy."

NCDOT did not respond to Channel 9's request for comment.

Cintra did not respond when asked if the company will pursue legal action.

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