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I-77 shoulder hardening starts next spring/summer

Rep. Beasley, Sen. Marcus, Rep. Clark, Sen. Sawyer at an I-77 press conference in March

June 4. By Dave Yochum. NC Sen. Natasha Marcus says reconstruction of the shoulders of I-77—known as hardening—will begin late spring or early summer next year. The work, which is not part of the I- 77 Mobility Partners/Cintra contract, will add capacity to the controversial highway.

NCDOT will bid out the contract for the hardening separately, said Marcus, who represents NC Senate District 41.

Reinforced road shoulders as peak-time travel lanes between Mooresville and Huntersville are apparently more useful for reducing congestion than the now partially opened toll lanes.

NC SEN MARCUS

The change would not trigger compensation considerations outlined in the $650 million, 50-year agreement between NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners, the private company that is building and will operate the Express Lanes.

Traffic during this morning’s rush hour moved along without any significant backups.

“Some cars used the toll lanes and traffic in the GP lanes seemed to benefit. The truer test will be mid-week, when traffic is at its worst,” she said.

Clark said when she drove on I-77 she was immediately concerned that the work has not been completed.

NC REP CLARK

“The uneven lanes, unclear lane markings and inconsistencies in quality gave me cause for concern. I am committed to holding I-77 Mobility Partners and NCDOT to task on this project to ensure the long term safety of drivers in our community,” Clark said.

The notion of exit-to-exit shoulder reinforcements comes from concerns often expressed by the Lake Norman Chamber, which has said I-77 functions as a north-south “Main Street” for local drivers.

Meanwhile, widening High 21 is “in the beginning stages, with rights of way acquisition beginning soon,” Marcus said.

The  5.5 mile project should be complete in six years.

On the third day of a partial opening, I-77 toll lane drivers are complaining that the roadway levels on I-77 are uneven between the toll lanes and the general purpose lanes.

“I’ve heard from many constituents who saw what I saw — a drop off in level between the toll lanes and the general purpose lanes, lack of clear signage for ingress and egress, poorly maintained pylon dividers, and shoddy paving and striping in the general purpose lanes,” Marcus said.

Marcus and NC Rep. Christy Clark called a meeting with NCDOT chief engineers to go over problems.

“NCDOT promised to post Q&A information soon,” Marcus said.

The opening of the tolls lanes is not meant to signal that they consider the entire project complete, she said.

“NCDOT is aware that significant portions of the general purpose lanes need rehabilitation, repaving and striping,” Marcus explained.

It may take until October to complete that work.

Work will be done only at night and traffic will be rerouted into the toll lanes to get around the work, without having to pay a toll during the detour.

Marcus said the current drop-off/grade differential between the toll lanes and the GP lanes could not be avoided during the repaving and is within the range DOT specifies as safe.

Other remedies are coming:

• The orange barrels and road closures around the NB Hambright Road/MM23 ingress are being improved ASAP.

• The transition areas between toll and general purpose lanes will all be marked with shortened dotted lines to indicate permission to enter/exit the toll lanes. The lanes will be level when complete.

• Trucks with more than 2 axels are not allowed in the toll lanes. It’s common with a new traffic pattern for drivers to make mistakes and DOT acknowledged that larger trucks have been seen in the toll lanes. It will be up to I-77’s privately contracted law enforcement to fine those drivers. The structures and lanes are built to hold full loads, so there is no safety concern. The pavement won’t last as long as it should if there is frequent, long-term use by larger trucks.

• The speed limit in certain sections of the toll lanes will be 5 mph higher than in the GP lanes: 60mph between 277 and I-85 and 70 mph between I-85 and exit 28. It will be the same 65 mph north of exit 28.

• Posted toll rates are currently 25% lower than they will be when the full project is complete in six months.

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