Spike in crashes in I-77 toll construction zone, according to NCDOT

Channel 9 dug through North Carolina Department of Transportation data and found crashes have increased dramatically in the I-77 toll construction zone.

The state numbers compared the year when construction started to the data from the previous three years.

Channel 9 discovered more than 400 extra crashes happened in 2016, the year after construction started. More than 80 percent of those crashes were related to congestion, according to NCDOT.

The biggest problems were fixed-object crashes, in which a car runs off the road to avoid stopped traffic, and sideswipe crashes.

In the areas where construction crews are working in the southbound lanes, sideswipe crashes jumped 90 percent and fixed-object crashes skyrocketed 120 percent.

"There could be someone with serious injury in this accident, and our first responders can't get around," Huntersville Commissioner Mark Gibbons said.

Gibbons worries the extra crashes are tying up first responders. When an emergency happens, the constricting construction barriers on the sides of the road don't allow vehicles to make way for the ambulances and firetrucks that are trying to reach those who need help.

"I think we need to review what procedures are being done to keep the construction corridor safe; safe as it possibly can be," Gibbons said.

Drivers were alarmed when Channel 9 showed them just how much crashes have increased.

"It's scary. It is scary," resident Abby Corbett said.

"There wasn't that many accidents before they started, and now all of a sudden there are a bunch of accidents starting to happen,” resident Arthur Davis added.

Commissioners and mayors in the Lake Norman area are meeting for a town hall Thursday in Cornelius to talk about their safety concerns.

Gibbons said he plans to discuss the numbers Channel 9 uncovered to help formulate questions for NCDOT.

Community leaders are planning to ask the state if the construction of the I-77 tolls meets the safety requirements used for other projects in the state.

Gibbons said one of his first questions for NCDOT will be to ask why the area is not designated as a construction zone with the appropriate signage.

(Click PLAY to watch Mark Barber's Facebook Live along I-77)

Some crashes have skyrocketed as much as 120 percent on I-77 in the year since they started toll lane construction. In all, more than 400 extra crashes happened in 2016, according to NCDOT. Here's a break down of the worst types of crashes, the strain on first responders and how community leaders are responding to safety concerns. (By the way, I'm not driving.)

Posted by Mark Barber WSOC on Tuesday, March 7, 2017

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