CHARLOTTE -In response to a large volume of questions about Tuesday night's Mecklenburg County Commissioners meeting and the upcoming Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization vote on Aug.19, the N.C. Department of Transportationwould like to offer the following explanation of the facts:
First, as NCDOT has stated numerous times, the local planning organization (CRTPO) developed, unanimously approved, and requested theI-77 Express Lanesproject based on a thorough study for the region. NCDOT agrees with their findings and plan, but ultimately the department is simply continuing to deliver the project as requested by the regional planning body and its constituent local governments.
Federal Law requires CRTPO's approval of a 10-year Metro Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP), which must be identical to the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will not approve funding for new projects until that is complete. The MTIP for Iredell, Mecklenburg and Union Counties includes 68 highway and 23 non-highway projects with a total investment of more than $1.8 billion in the region over the next 10years.
FHWA does not allow CRTPO (or any planning organization) to add or delete projects from the STIP that was created under state law at this stage. Members are required to approve or not approve their MTIP as is. Modifying the plan in any way is voting not to approve it. If CRTPO votes not to approve its program on Aug.19, then all 91 new transportation projects for the region will be delayed for a minimum of six to nine months and remain on hold until a new ten-year plan can be developed and approved for the region by CRTPO and the N.C. Board of Transportation.
This is Not a Vote for Express Lanes or General-Purpose Lanes
Some groups have wrongly asserted that voting against the 10-year plan and cancelling the I-77 Express Lanes contract would automatically bring general-purpose lanes to I-77 instead. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If the I-77 Express Lanes project, requested by local transportation planners, was canceled, the state could not immediately build general-purpose lanes as an alternative. As required by law, If CRTPO changes its plan now and wishes to submit a new project in place of the I-77 Express Lanes, that project would have to go through the same scoring process as all other projects and rank high enough against other projects to be eligible for future funding. New projects can be submitted through this process every two years. Additionally, canceling the I-77 contract at this point would require a penalty potentially as high as $100 million.
Under the existing contract the I-77 Express Lanes project would provide immediate and long-term traffic management solutions within three years, by giving drivers more choices:
- Chooseto remain in free general-purpose lanes;
- Chooseto use Express Lanes for free with at least 3 people (HOV); or
- Chooseto pay to use Express Lanes with fewer than three people for a more predictable travel time on a trip or portion of a trip.
Understanding the Facts
Opponents of the I-77 Express Lanes project have previously accused NCDOT of using "scare tactics," which is simply not true. The department does not intend to scare anyone, and ultimately NCDOT will deliver or not deliver projects as requested by CRTPO, but we want to ensure that local leaders, citizens and journalists fully understand all of the facts involved.The facts are that a vote not to approve the 10-year transportation program (MTIP) and cancel the I-77 Express Lanes contract means delaying 91 new projects for the region, payi