LAKE NORMAN – Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon laid out his proposed path forward for the I-77 express lanes project that responds to concerns voiced by residents of north Mecklenburg County and feedback from the I-77 local advisory group. The I-77 contract was signed by the previous administration, and today’s plan lays out the eventual objective for North Carolina to operate the project with clear steps that can be taken to help people more immediately.
“I have heard loud and clear from Governor Cooper and members of both the community and the local advisory group that the preference is for NCDOT to operate this facility,” said Secretary Trogdon. “While working to fulfill that eventual objective, we will implement an ‘Improve, Expand, Protect’ action plan to respond immediately to concerns raised by residents.”
Secretary Trogdon explained that constraints from state laws and stipulations in the contract prevent the department from immediately buying out the contract. These constraints had been previously acknowledged and discussed by the advisory group. Under the Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) state law, to receive funding, a transportation project must score above a certain threshold under an objective, data-driven analysis. Projected scoring of the option to immediately buy the contract came in too low to be eligible for funding right away.
“Working within current state law, this action plan allows us to pursue simultaneous actions that have the most immediate path to success without losing sight of the main objective to have NCDOT operate the facility,” added Trogdon.
Trogdon explained that as the team moves forward, it will become clear which identified options to improve the contract and expand capacity can be achieved most quickly.
In his presentation, Trogdon laid out the following action plan:
- North Carolina will ultimately operate this facility
Improve the day-to-day concerns by negotiating better terms for drivers such as:
- Toll limits to cap the maximum amount that can be charged
- Frequent user discounts
- Allow medium-sized trucks to travel in the express lanes
Expand non-toll capacity
- Pursue multiple paths to provide non-tolled capacity including:
- Hardened shoulders during peak travel periods
- Convert one toll lane to a general-purpose lane (3+1) exit 23-28 and add one general-purpose lane (3+1) exit 28-36
- Develop and implement a process to continually evaluate contract purchase under STI (required to reach goal of operating facility)
- Auxiliary lanes to allow for local drivers traveling short distances (exit 23-25, 25-28, and 33-35)
- Provides path that is legal, fiscally responsible
- Open and transparent process ensures North Carolinians have an opportunity to participate in process before a decision is made
Several constraints exist that must be addressed before many of the action items can be completed. Trogdon said NCDOT will work to address these as they pursue each action item.
- STI requires projects be scored based on technical data such as traffic congestion, and then be prioritized for funding. (Learn more about how STI works,)
- State law (2018 budget - Senate Bill 99) requires NCDOT to report any proposed contract modifications or cancellations to the N.C. General Assembly at least 60 days in advance of finalization.
- State law (2018 budget – Senate Bill 99) defines impacts to funding for other projects as it relates to the bonus allocation and project (corridor) cap.
- New or modified construction will require design time and possible permitting.
- Contract modifications must be negotiated with the developer.
Secretary Trogdon committed to provide updates to the local advisory group during NCDOT’s efforts to implement the “Improve, Expand, Protect” while working toward the ultimate objective of purchasing the contract. Trogdon convened the local advisory group in late 2017 to engage community leaders to obtain insight into the concerns of residents along the I-77 corridor. The group has met seven times previously and has provided feedback to the Secretary.