I-77 Mobility Partners say work would occur at night


By Dave Vieser. If the I-77 toll lane project actually gets under way, an article in the Charlotte Observer in August 2014 said it would begin this past spring or summer, motorists and truckers will be dealing with three years of work on Lake Norman’s main north-south expressway. The only redeeming factor is that work which will affect travel lanes will occur overnight, according to I-77 Mobility Partners, the private/public consortium doing the work for the NCDOT.

Local officials have their doubts.

“There are undoubtedly decent, well-meaning individual professionals at NCDOT, but as an organization, the DOT has proven itself totally incompetent on nearly every single Cornelius-related project they’ve touched in recent years,” said Town Commissioner Dave Gilroy. “They have zero credibility with the Cornelius board in my opinion.”

Business owners aren’t optimistic either. “What is really disheartening is that we are about to embark on a massive construction project that includes orange barrels and imminent delays that spans over three years,” said John Hettwer, a former chairman of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Payroll Plus. “Yet when the current design is all finished, we will still have very limited congestion relief.”

Preparatory work has already begun, according to I-77 Mobility Partners spokeswoman Jean Leier. “Crews working with the general contractor are already in the field identifying utilities, surveying and conducting geotechnical investigations into the soil along the I-77 corridor from Charlotte to Mooresville.”

Leier says that when the construction starts, motorists will first notice crews clearing the land on the median which divides the north and southbound lanes. Two new lanes in each direction will be added between Exit 19 and Exit 28, with one lane in each direction north of the Catawba Avenue exit. The main reason for the segment with just a single new lane in each direction is the limited space available on the Lake Norman  causeway.

Once the land has been cleared, utility relocation will follow, where needed, and then the actual road building will commence.

According to Doug Maxwell of Time-Saver Traffic, which reports delays on local radio stations including WBT, the stretch of I-77 from Exit 36 to Exit 23, where the road is mostly two lanes in each direction, is subject to daily congestion and delays in both directions through about 11 a.m. and again anytime after approximately 3 p.m. That would give construction crews less than four hours to do any daytime work.

Since the alternate routes for I-77, mainly Highway 21 and Highway 115, also become severely congested whenever the interstate has a problem, commuters, travelers and trucker will be left with few options.

Even if the actual construction work is limited to just night-time hours, the presence of cones and barrels next to the open traffic lanes could have a distracting effect on motorists, thereby slowing down the pace of travel. In addition, the DOT, in conjunction with the contractor,  may impose a reduced “work zone” speed limit of 55 mph, which usually carries enhanced enforcement and higher fines.

All told, not a rosy outlook for motorists using I-77 if and when the work begins. “In terms of construction-related disruption,” Gilroy said, “all I can say is to expect the worst imaginable scenario.”


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