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Cornelius News

Toll lanes open 10 am Saturday

May 31. By Dave Yochum. The northern section of the I-77 Express lanes project, from Hambright Road to Exit 36 in Mooresville, will open Saturday June 1 with little or no fanfare, no politicians, no ribbon-cutting. I-77 Mobility Partners gave the public less than 24 hours notice: The controversial toll lanes open at 10 am.

Operated and maintained by a public-private partnership with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the toll lane project was rammed through the state government, much to the chagrin of local legislators and, ultimately, former Gov. Pat McCrory who lost his bid for a second term largely because North Meck voters turned out against him.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham says she will boycott the toll lanes. “I have no plans to use them. I am used to a sometimes two-hour trip to Cornelius,” the toll fighter said.

“No toll road for me,” Cotham said. “I will stay in the traffic with the people.”

Cotham and early toll fighter Mac McAlpine of Cornelius

Nevertheless, I-77 Mobility Partners CEO Javier Tamargo said he was “excited” that drivers may start using the express lanes, derisively termed Lexus Lanes by opponents.

The saving grace is that more than three years of often dangerous construction are coming to an end. “However, we continue to believe that tolls on I-77 are an unfair double tax on the drivers of North Mecklenburg,” said NC Sen. Natasha Marcus. She represents District 41 which includes Davidson Cornelius and points south.

The $650 million toll lane contract—the term is 50 years—caused not only McCrory’s loss, but a grass roots movement. The Exit 28 Ridiculousness Facebook page as well as annual demonstrations on the Exit 28 bridge helped galvanize opposition. The toll lane plan proceeded relentlessly despite concerted efforts from legislators and local officials.

“The private investment in I-77 Express has been instrumental to deliver this project and other infrastructure improvements along the existing portion of I-77 sooner for the State of North Carolina and motorists,” Tamargo said. A complex and now discarded NCDOT highway improvement ranking system put widening I-77 years out on the construction schedule.

The I-77 Express lanes run adjacent to the existing general purpose lanes.

Oddly enough, they were built with a base insufficient for tractor trailers. Toll lane opponents like former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett, say increased congestion caused by the toll lanes—which become more profitable with more congestion on the general purpose lanes—will be a significant economic disincentive for the entire state. He said the toll lanes will ultimately drive business and industry to South Carolina.

The number of free general purpose lanes remains the same.

The express lanes have signage one-quarter mile ahead of each segment that clearly displays the transponder toll rate applicable to drive that segment. The toll rate displayed when entering I-77 Express is the price motorists will be charged for that segment.

Drivers can take a virtual ride now on I-77 Express by visiting www.i77express.com.

During the first 180 days of operations, beginning June 1, rates are defined for every 30-minute period of each day and will not change in real time. This allows I-77 Express drivers to get used to the facility, knowing the applicable rate for their trip beforehand.

Customers will receive a promotional rate, which is an average 25 percent rate off toll rates until the full opening of I-77 Express. The toll rates displayed on the toll rate signs for each segment of I-77 Express will reflect the promotional rate.

Using the toll lanes will cost up to $6.55 when the full project opens. But after a 6-month trial run, prices during peak traffic will rise to a maximum of $9.40.

Dynamic pricing will apply after the first 180 days from the opening of traffic on I-77. During dynamic mode, toll rates may change as often as every five minutes to accommodate changes in demand for I-77 Express. Toll rates will be based on segment length, time of day and demand for I-77 Express.

I77 Mobility Partners offered this advice to motorists who will use the toll lanes:

Using a NC Quick Pass transponder is the fastest, easiest way to pay for tolls in North Carolina and other states that accept SunPass, Peach Pass and E-ZPass transponders. For customers without a NC Quick Pass, SunPass, Peach Pass or E-ZPass transponder, cameras will capture an image of your vehicle’s license plate. NC Quick Pass will mail a bill to the vehicle’s registered owner through the Bill by Mail program.

To receive the news and information on I-77 Express, sign up for e-communications at https://www.i77express.com/about-us/contact-us/

I-77 Express also shares updates on social media on Facebook at  I-77 Express and on Twitter @I77Express.

It’s unclear when the remainder of the toll lanes will open.