On Tues., Feb. 20, at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, Radha Krishna Swayampakala, consultant for the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, presented to the I-77 Advisory Board the analysis of the Mercator policy options for the Lake Norman I-77 express lanes. The meeting room was full of news media as well as members of the public. N.C. Secretary of Transportation James H. Trogdon III was scheduled to attend but phoned in his apologies for being sick that day. He was represented by N.C. Turnpike Authority (NCTA) Acting Executive Director Chris Werner, P.E., N.C.; Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Division Engineer Scott Cole, P.E.; and State Traffic Engineer J. Kevin Lacy, P.E., CPM.
Construction Progress on I-77
- I-277 to I-77 southbound flyover opened on Feb. 11, 2019.
- NCTA Customer Service Center is open at I-485/Harris Blvd. interchange.
- Torrence Creek Greenway tunnel is complete.
- I-77 tunnel at I-85 is nearly complete.
- Hambright Road bridge over I-77 should open in spring 2019.
Final acceptance date for completion of the entire project is Oct. 31, 2019.
Interchange lighting on I-77
The northern section should be functional by spring 2019, Sunset Road and I-277 by summer 2019. Swayampakala explained construction is ongoing. Some lights will have to wait until all paving is completed in order to avoid destroying wiring.
At-Large Mecklenburg Board County Commissioner Pat Cotham referred to the state of lighting in the I-77 work zones as being “very stressful for the people up here.” She observed that the lights at exits 23, 25, and 28 are often on during the day but not at night.
NCDOT Division Engineer Scott Cole explained that the lighting is a work in progress and going through a “burn-in” period. He said, “You will see better results in the near future.”
Safety on I-77
Crashes on I-77 compared to the three years prior to construction have seen a significant increase: 69%. This statistic places the I-77 project in the mid-range when compared to two projects in the Raleigh area that were at 57% and 98%.
Flexible delineators are here to stay
The posts that are marking the general-purpose lanes from the express lanes are in a temporary location. Once the express lanes are completed, the markers will be moved but will continue to delineate the lanes.
Work and safety inspections
Division 10 performs daily inspections of the work zone, an outside consultant performs random inspections on a monthly basis, and night inspections occur twice weekly.
Customer service now handled by NCTA
Customer service account functions have been shifted from I-77 Mobility Partners to ensure billing consistency and to provide one place for customer dispute resolutions. NCTA is introducing a new app to assist drivers with two additional passengers to use the express lanes for free. The driver will need to log into the app fifteen minutes prior to using the lanes; although, it is more of a “window” than an exact time to get onto the highway.
Are we still in the same place with no progress being made on the contract?
Cornelius Commissioner Kurt Naas and former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett both pointed out that canceling the contract was not mentioned in any part of the presentation. Questions that had been asked at the last meeting in August were not answered. They and others on the advisory board wanted to know what legislative obstacles needed to be overcome to resolve the situation and fix or cancel the contract. Many of them felt that it was a crucial economic issue instead of simply a transportation issue.
Naas asked, “What legislation would enable the quickest and most cost-effective way to cancel this contract?” Acting Executive Director NCTA Chris Werner responded, “I appreciate your concerns. I will take them back to the Secretary.” Further, Werner assured advisory board members that they will provide a response to the members’ questions prior to the next meeting.