Contractor races to complete $650M North Carolina toll lanes
- New toll roads on Interstate 77 in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be open by the end of this year as scheduled, but commuters will likely have to wait a little longer for the $650 million project to be complete, WFAE reported.
- I-77 Mobility Partners, the private consortium the state hired to build and operate 26 miles of new toll lanes from Charlotte to Mooresville, North Carolina, said the toll lanes should be open on time but that construction on some direct connector ramps in multiple locations won't be complete for months. David Hannon, chief infrastructure officer for the consortium, said there was a major redesign about a year into the project, plus the addition of two new ramps that won't open until July 2019. Approximately 1,100 workers representing 90 different contractors and subcontractors are currently manning the project.
- This is the first time North Carolina transportation officials have handed over the finance, construction and management of a toll project to a private group, and some locals are convinced it's a bad deal. Some critics object to the contract itself while others are opposed to paying tolls or believe that the new fees will hurt the local economy. Although a state audit revealed nothing untoward about the I-77 Mobility Partners contract, critics have proposed that the NCDOT buy out the contract and convert one of the toll lanes to a free lane. Other suggestions include the state paying for construction with bonds.
Some of the biggest challenges to highway projects, which, by their very nature, typically involve huge excavation components, come from environmental concerns.
To the northeast of Charlotte in the Raleigh-Durham area of the state, a $2.2 billion toll road, part of the Triangle Expressway, caught a break this past April when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the project would not negatively impact two species of endangered mussels. This decision, contingent on the North Carolina Department of Transportation using special construction procedures and investing $5 million in a new hatchery, will save the state the cost and aggravation of having to build an alternate route through existing residential and business areas.
However, the Southern Environmental Law Center has not given up on its efforts to stop construction. The group has amended its original lawsuit to include the NCDOT, the Federal Highway Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service and makes new allegations about the potential environmental damage the project could cause.
Follow Kim Slowey on Twitter