I-77 Mobility Partners slated to finish Charlotte’s first ever Express Toll Lanes by the end of 2018
By Abby Pittman
As the state of North Carolina continues to grow and expand, so must its highways and bridges. In June of 2014, the North Carolina Department of Transportation signed up for a partnership with the I-77 Mobility Partners for the I-77 Express Lanes in the first private-public partnership in North Carolina. I-77 Mobility Partners is financing, developing, designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining the project, though NCDOT owns the road and will continue to ensure that the standards set forth in construction are met.
The project is funded through both public and private funds: $248 million in private equity from investment partners; $189 million from a Federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan; $100 million in Private Activity Bonds (PABS); and $95 million in public funds from NCDOT. “Developing this project through a public-private partnership transfers the risk of future usage of the lanes to the private sector so that if the roadway underperforms, the public is protected,” Javier Tamargo, CEO of I-77 Mobility Partners, explained. “The public-private partnership model also takes full advantage of the innovation and efficiency of private enterprise to reduce the use of tax dollars. Furthermore, the public-private partnership model sets an incentive for customer service: the private developer will only
be successful in the long term if the project provides a safe, reliable, and valuable service to the community at a reasonable price.”
The goal of the project was to improve the public roads and create a faster travel time for the citizens of North Carolina. The new I-77 Express Lanes allow the luxury of choice for drivers between Uptown Charlotte and Exit 36 in Mooresville. “It will be a driver’s choice to use the I-77 Express Lanes,” Tamargo said. “When it is necessary that you arrive somewhere on time – whether for work, daycare, or other appointments – you will be able to avoid the traffic by paying a toll and using the express lanes. Other times, when there is limited or no traffic, it is your choice to stay on the general purpose lanes free of charge.”
Ideally, drivers who opt not to use the express lanes will also see a benefit as the express lanes will alleviate traffic and congestion, lessening their commute and creating a more efficient highway experience. This project does not just extend to highway needs, there are nearly 20 bridge structures that are being evaluated as well, which will include the rebuilding and widening of existing bridges as well as the building of new bridges. According to Tamargo, “We are not only creating faster travel options for motorists, at the same time, we are adding travel improvements for pedestrians. Five of the bridges that we are rebuilding will now have new sidewalks, bike lanes, and lighting for better access and safety for pedestrians.”
Like most maintenance work, the roads stay open during the busiest commuting hours, and lane closures and detours occur overnight. Additionally, I-77 Mobility Partners has taken responsibility for all maintenance needs, operations, and traffic incident response in both the general purpose lanes and the express lanes along the entire 26-mile corridor from Charlotte to Mooresville as part of the comprehensive agreement with NCDOT. A challenge that I-77 and NCDOT have encountered is that “this is the first toll project in this part of the state and not everybody in the area was familiar with the concept of Express Lanes,” Tamargo said. “But we are overcoming this challenge with an intense public engagement and information campaign.” Indeed, on the NCDOT website, there is a listing of other cities and states that have been successful with toll roads alleviating traffic congestion.
Currently, over 400 people are working on the projects. As one of the largest road construction projects in North Carolina since the initial construction of the interstate system, the I-77 Express Lanes project faced multiple challenges that I-77 Mobility Partners met with flying colors. The accelerated process was perhaps one of the larger challenges. “This is a 26-mile long project where we are building a new road within an existing interstate in approximately three and half years while the traffic continues using the road,” Tamargo explained. “This requires a tremendous effort to streamline every design and construction process so our ambitious goal can be achieved.”
The State of North Carolina continues to expand and improve their infrastructure with projects such as this, and look forward to a productive 2018. The I-77 Express Lanes are slated for completion by the end of 2018 with effort from both the NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners, and will consider North Carolina’s first public-private partnership a success.
Abby Pittman is an Editorial Assistant for American Infrastructure magazine. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.