Public-private partnership in N.C. to add toll lanes to fastest growing area in U.S.

I-77 Mobility Partners achieved financial closure for the construction and operations of the North Carolina I-77 Express Lanes project that represents a significant milestone in the redevelopment and expansion of a critical business corridor in the Charlotte region.

The $648 million project will extend 26 miles from the I-77 connection with I-277 in Charlotte to just north of Exit 36 in Mooresville. The express lanes are dedicated travel lanes that will run adjacent to the existing general-purpose lanes on I-77. Two express lanes will run on I-77 in each direction between Charlotte and Exit 28 in Cornelius. One express lane in either direction will run from Exit 28 to Exit 36.

Motorists will have a choice to use the express lanes, the general-purpose lanes or a combination of both to allow for a more efficient drive. The “pay to use” concept, and the public-private partnership being used by North Carolina for this project is becoming popular as states attempt to make up for a lack of funding from the Highway Trust Fund, due to expire at the end of July.

“For this pay to use proposition the concession is for 50 years and that is the time horizon contemplated to obtain the expected return to our investment,” said Jean Leier, director of corporate affairs, with I-77 Mobility Partners in a written statement to TI News.

Toll rates have not yet been determined, Leier said. “Toll rates for the I-77 Express Lanes will be determined by real-time traffic demand,” she said. Rates will vary for each segment based on the length of the segment and the number of cars using the express lanes at that point in time in order to maintain a free flow speed.

“This dynamic pricing helps to manage traffic flow and provides faster and more predictable travel for drivers who choose to use the lanes. We will conduct market research and conduct public meetings to gather feedback and discuss details of tolling; and how to use the express lanes before the project opens.”

Tolls will be primarily set during the first six months after the lanes open to allow users time to get used to driving on the express lanes. Dynamic tolling will begin after the six-month introductory period.

The project will begin this summer with an anticipated completion date of late 2018, Leier said.

“The Charlotte region is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States,” Leier said. “That is why I-77 Mobility Partners is proud to be have been selected by NCDOT to deliver a long-term transportation solution to one of the most congested roadways in the state by expanding the number of options available to drivers, enhancing mobility and traffic flow through the corridor.”

One-hundred eighty-nine million for the project comes from a Federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan; $100 million in Private Activity Bonds (PABS); $248 million in private equity from investment partners; and $95 million in public funds from the North Carolina DOT.