By CHUCK McSHANE
HUNTERSVILLE – Two meetings here Wednesday took on the topic of I-77 and the future of transportation in the Lake Norman area.
The Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization (MUMPO) held a public workshop on the proposed I-77 High-Occupancy Toll lane project, which would add privately-managed high occupancy toll lanes on either side of the interstate from Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 36 in Mooresville.
About 20 people showed up at Central Piedmont Community College’s Merancas Campus to get a look at aerial maps of the proposed project and ask questions about how they might be affected.
MUMPO is seeking to add the planned public-private partnership to drafts two key documents – its 2012-2018 Transportation Improvement Plan and its 2035 Long-Range Transportation Plan. Wednesday’s meeting is part of a public hearing process on this step, which MUMPO representatives will vote on at their May 22 meeting.
Bill Coxe, a transportation planner in Huntersville, presented some details about the project. He noted that average travel times at peak hours tend to be below the speed limit. With increased growth, those times would only get worse in the coming years, Coxe said.
“We’ve reached the end of (I-77′s) useful life as a four-lane highway,” Coxe said.
While MUMPO had originally called for a widening project using general purpose and non-toll high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, Coxe said that traditional state funding was not as readily available. That’s when MUMPO proposed the HOT lanes idea.
He said that of the 306 transportation projects on MUMPO’s agenda, only 30 of them could be completed using traditional state funding. This project is likely to cost more than $500 million, Coxe said. The state will contribute no more than $170 million.
Adding the project to the Transportation Improvement Program and Long-Range Transportation Plan is important, Coxe said, because contractors are unlikely to agree to take on the project without its inclusion in those plans.
If MUMPO approves the project, North Carolina Department of Transportation staff will select a bidder for the project in October. Construction is planned to begin in January 2015, and the lanes are scheduled to be open in 2017.
Some members of the public were concerned about design specifics and financing of the project, particularly on how cars would enter and exit the lanes.
The winning bidder will be responsible for such design details, but will be required to have at least four entry and exit points along the route. Coxe said the winning company will likely include more than that.
The company will be responsible for design, construction and maintenance on the HOT lanes. The company will also conduct minor maintenance and upkeep on the general purpose lanes. The state will provide a stiped for upkeep on the general purpose lanes.
MUMPO is seeking public comments now through April 22. To submit yours, visit the MUMPO survey website at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Z2WRVLM
TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION LOOKS AT NEEDS
Meanwhile, at Huntersville Town Hall, the Lake Norman Transportation Commission held its monthly meeting. High on the agenda was a recent survey on Lake Norman-area priorities. The survey of 39 people who had attend a recent transportation summit found that most people prioritized adding a north-south route from I-485 north. Second on the priority list was an east-west connection from I-77 to I-485.
Commission members agreed to revisit the corridor plan for N.C. 73.
Chairman Bill Thunberg updated the group on the long-stalled Red Line commuter rail project. He said the Metropolitan Transit Commission’s Red Line Task Force is continuing talks with Norfolk Southern, which owns the tracks the proposed project would use.
Mr. Thunberg said the best case scenario is that the commission can convince Norfolk Southern to consider forming a public-private partnership for the proposed project.
Lake Norman Transportation Commission, www.lakenormantrans.org
See previous stories about I-77 on DavidsonNews.net.
Previous articles about the Red Line project