Transportation secretary suggests free lane for I-77
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A state transportation official said Wednesday he is backing a recommendation to convert one of the two proposed toll lanes for Interstate 77 near North Carolina’s largest city into a free, general purpose lane.
Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said the department is also recommending the contract be renegotiated with better terms for drivers, discounts for frequent users and permission for medium-size trucks to use express lanes, news outlets reported.
The recommendations were presented during a meeting of the I-77 Express Lanes Local Advisory Group. A majority of the group recommended the measure endorsed by Trogdon in a vote during its last meeting in May.
Trogdon also said buying out the contract with the Spanish company building the lanes isn’t feasible this year or next. Cintra will collect the toll revenue for 50 years. People living near the interstate have been calling on the state to buy out the deal.
The Charlotte Observer reported some people in the group weren’t happy with the options Trogdon proposed.
“We’re 31 points down and we’re kicking a field goal,” said John Hettwer of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.
Trogdon said the state must pursue realistic options.
“We want to advance today the things that we know will have a greater probability of success,” he told the advisory group. “That particular option of buying out the contract will not be competitive.”
Instead, Trogdon said, NCDOT would instead start immediately on negotiations to improve the existing plan such as by placing a cap on toll fees and opening shoulders to traffic during peak periods.
Construction is approaching completion on the toll lanes that will run about 26 miles (40 kilometers) from Charlotte north to Mooresville.
Public criticism of the toll lane project became an issue in the closely contested governor’s race in 2016 in which Republican incumbent Pat McCrory narrowly lost to Democratic challenger Roy Cooper, who criticized the toll lane contract during the campaign.