CHARLOTTE – The N.C. Department of Transportation today signed an agreement with Cintra for a public-private-partnership (P3) contract to improve the traffic flow along 26 miles of I-77 in the Charlotte area, one of the most congested roadways in the state. The P3 enables NCDOT to address a critical need and provide immediate travel time reliability along I-77 from Uptown Charlotte to the Lake Norman area that could otherwise not be completed with limited funds.
The state will invest about $88 million dollars and Cintra will secure the remainder of the $655 million to design, build, operate and maintain the managed lanes project in exchange for toll revenue generated from the lanes. This public-private partnership will complete the project within four years instead of the estimated 20 years it would take to secure enough state funding to move forward.
“This project provides an innovative and comprehensive solution to existing and future congestion in this corridor,” said NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata. “Utilizing the public-private partnership concept is allowing us to improve nearly 26 miles of I-77 in just a few years, not in decades. This expansion will provide an option for reliable travel time while addressing long-term mobility concerns.”
Managed lanes give drivers a choice to pay a toll to enter and exit the lanes at various points to avoid congestion, or continue using general-purpose lanes for free. Managed lanes also help ease congestion on the free, general-purpose lanes for other drivers.
The I-77 project includes converting the current High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, which already exist along I-77, and adding capacity to the roadway. The existing HOV lanes and new lanes will be High Occupancy managed lanes that allow free use for eligible carpoolers (three passengers or greater), buses and motorcyclists, while allowing other drivers to pay a toll to use those lanes.
Tolls will vary during the day and night to manage the number of vehicles in the lanes and help ensure free-flowing traffic even during morning and evening rush hours.
“No toll rates have been set for the I-77 managed lanes. As required by contract, Cintra will conduct public hearings as part of developing toll rates that drivers can choose to pay to avoid congestion, and ultimately, the market will drive those rates,” said NCDOT Director of Technical Services Rodger Rochelle.
Transparent and Thorough Review
Over the past two years, NCDOT completed a transparent and thorough due diligence process to ensure the I-77 managed lanes project was the most efficient and effective way to address the corridor’s major congestion issues. That process included more than a dozen public hearings, neighborhood meetings and workshops; as well as more than 40 meetings with mayors, town and city leaders, officials and staff from the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), local legislators, business forums and the Lake Norman Transportation Commission. NCDOT posted the detailed documents related to the bidding process online beginning in March of 2013, including each updated draft of the proposed contract for public review. The State Treasurer's Office reviewed the agreement and the Local Government Commission (that includes the State Treasurer, State Auditor, Secretary of State and Secretary of Revenue) approved a resolution to allow the project to move forward.
In accordance with state law, NCDOT submitted reports to the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee, Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations and the Chairs of the Transportation Appropriation Committees, beginning in April 2014. Numerous lenders, USDOT TIFIA office and other stakeholders have reviewed and approved the contract and will continue to review documents until financial close. A number of attorneys, including the NC Attorney General’s Office, have also reviewed the documents and all issued favorable legal opinions for the I-77 project as part of the due diligence process.
Moving forward, design, permitting and other preconstruction activities will begin, and additional public meetings will be scheduled to discuss the project’s toll rates and methodology. NCDOT expects Cintra to secure the funding by the end of this year. Design and construction are anticipated to take 3.5 years, with completion scheduled for 2018.
The project will add capacity to I-77 between Brookshire Freeway (Exit 11) in Charlotte and N.C. 150 (Exit 36) in Iredell County. This portion of the I-77 corridor already experiences significant congestion, and projections show a 2-to-3 percent increase in traffic volume is expected every year through 2030.
Improvements will also include a flyover bridge to provide the managed lanes direct access from I-77 to I-277, and the widening of southbound I-77 lanes and shoulders in some areas. The added lanes will increase capacity through the corridor, improve travel time reliability, and better manage traffic flow along I-77.
Cintra has more than four decades of experience as a private developer of transportation projects around the world. Its current projects include locations in Texas, Indiana and Illinois, as well as in Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Ireland and Australia.