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Wednesday, 15 October 2014 09:24

NCDOT, Cintra map out I-77 plans

Written by  Staff
NCDOT, Cintra map out I-77 plans John Deem

LAKE NORMAN, N.C. -- Two hundred linear feet of engineers’ drawings laid out what thousands of Lake Norman-area drivers had been wondering about for months, if not years.

Last week, officials with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Cintra Infraestructures and I-77 Mobility Partners Inc. unveiled maps that highlighted plans to widen 27 miles of I-77 between I-277 in downtown Charlotte and Exit 36 in Mooresville using two “managed lanes” for most of that distance in both directions.

The maps were pinned to row after row of drapes at four-hour public information sessions held last Wednesday at the Charles Mack Citizen Center in Mooresville and last Thursday at North Mecklenburg High School in Huntersville. The sessions were designed to inform interested residents about how the toll lanes will function and how drivers will navigate into and out of them, as well as to accept feedback from residents that could factor into the design and toll rates. Variable tolls will be charged for the lanes depending upon traffic conditions. Use of managed lanes will be free of charge for vehicles containing three or more occupants.

The maps and other visual aids on display provided some insight regarding specifics of the project such as:

• design of access points at both the southern and northern ends of the project;

• proposed locations for electronic toll gantries;

• the contractor’s plans to provide for traffic flow between toll lane exits while minimizing the impact on general purpose lanes;

• proposed locations of the five other ingress and egress points along the length of the project; and

• the contractor’s proposed design of an additional, 2,000-foot-long lane at each ingress and egress point to allow traffic to merge into and out of the toll lanes.

Among the previously unannounced pieces of information was a 35 percent discount on toll rates for drivers who register their vehicles with the North Carolina Turnpike Authority and purchase either a transponder sticker for $5, which is good on any North Carolina toll facility or other states’ E-Z Pass roads; a hard case transponder, which works in North Carolina or any other state’s SunPass and E-Z Pass facility; or $25 for a hard case with a switch that will allow drivers to turn off automated toll billing if the vehicle is occupied by three or more individuals.

Prior to Wednesday’s session, officials met with the media to address questions, with the most frequently asked by several reporters involving an estimation of what toll rates would be and when those rates will be known and revealed to the public. Each time, the answer was that tolls will be market-driven and priced to both encourage use of the toll lanes in order for Cintra to recoup and eventually profit from its investment while still maintaining a contractually obligated average speed of 45 miles per hour in the toll lanes.

The contract between NCDOT and Cintra provides the company will finance, design, build, operate and maintain that stretch of I-77 for 50 years. The state will share in any additional revenues that surpass thresholds and, in initial states of building and operating the toll lanes, the state will provide a maximum of $163 million including $88 million up front and a maximum $12 million per year for the first six years of operation should toll revenues fall short of projections.

Once the doors opened for last week’s sessions, the crowd was a mix of those seeking more information as well as those who oppose toll lanes.

“The very first person I approached, I asked her, ‘What can I explain to you about this project?’” said Warren Cooksey, director of outreach and community for NCDOT Division 10. “‘How to stop it,’ she said.”

Cintra is expected to secure the financial closing of the contract with NCDOT by the end of the year, begin construction next spring and complete the project in 2018.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Rob Kidwell Friday, 17 October 2014 07:04 posted by Rob Kidwell

    I attended the 2nd open meeting held by NCDOT and Cintra in regards to the toll road project. I had a list of questions for them to answer and wanted to share them with you. Many of the answers we already knew they would not come forward with. However, I was surprised to hear that they do not plan to build any on off ramp at Hambright in Huntersville.

    The answers from the NCDOT are in quotation marks under my questions.

    1. Anything collected here going to change the NCDOT position or Contra’s view on the how the project will run or the cost of the tolls?
    “No, we have signed a contract; this is just an information session.”

    2. How much will it cost to use the lanes and when will we know?
    “We don’t know, that is between them and the bank they borrow from”

    3. Why would we go into this project without knowing what it will cost to use?
    “It will be market driven and fare”

    4. What is your threshold of cost to the public to use the lanes? At what point would you say that is not acceptable and back out of the project?
    “There is not threshold, they can charge whatever the market drives it to be, it’s not up to us.”

    5. Why would the NCDOT go into business with a company that has two failed projects in the US, and has just gone bankrupt on one of them?
    “The project in Indiana was purchased from the state and was already in place. The state was losing money from the inception of the toll road and felt it was a better deal to sell the lanes to Cintra in 2005.”
    (My take away on this: The state was losing money on the toll road during the economic boom, sold it to a company that continued to lose it during the economic boom and now it’s bankrupt.)

    6. Cintra claims it’s only 90 million dollars to do the LKN area, and we are giving them 88 million, why not do it ourselves?
    “What about Charlotte, and south of the city. We need to help them out too”

    7. Did you rank the LKN project alone on the new transportation list?
    “No, only as a combined project”

    8. How many access points will someone have to get out of a toll road?
    “Four going south and 3 going north once you past I-85/I-77 interchange”

    9. How many feet will that access point be open?
    “Two Thousand feet”

    10. What is the distance between the end of the access point and the exit?
    “Twenty-four hundred feet”

    11. How many lanes will they need to cross if they need to get off on an exit?
    “Two or there, depending on if its exit 23 or 25 or 3”

    (To break it down in simple math terms, a car traveling 65 miles per hour travels 95.33 feet per second.
    The traffic on our exits back up normally around 1000 feet on the highway, per a NCDOT member.
    If we have If we take the 4400 feet given to move over 2 to 3 lanes, subtract the exit back up of 1000 feet we are left with 3400 feet to move over to the exit.
    At the posted speed limit of 65 miles per hour, traveling 95.33 feet per second, that gives us 35.67 seconds to cross over multiple lanes of congested traffic to make an exit. If you attempt this, please be careful)

    12. Will there be an off on ramp at Hambright in Huntersville?
    “No”

    13. Will you tear down the Hambright Bridge?
    “Yes, to fit the new lanes in”

    14. Will there be an off on ramp at Westmoreland in Cornelius?
    “Maybe, not for sure”

    15. Will you tear down the Westmoreland Bridge?
    “We will have to see if we build an exit there, otherwise yes”

    16. Has there ever been an economic impact study of the area for this project since there is not direct access to major points of businesses?
    “No, we would not typically do an economic study on any road project”

    17. Why are you tearing down the walk bridge in Charlotte and not replacing it?
    “The residents and police want it tore down and not replaced due to high drug dealings in that area and the police are not able to catch them”

    18. How many other toll projects are planned and where in this area?
    “Possible projects would be a part I-485, South I-77, 277, and Independence in the area”

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