- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Faced with an uproar over toll lanes planned for Interstate 77 north, the Charlotte City Council on Monday questioned the state’s plans for new toll lanes on I-485 and U.S. 74.

Charlotte’s elected officials have been either silent or supportive of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s plans for a network of toll lanes in Mecklenburg County.

But at a presentation Monday, Mayor Dan Clodfelter and council member Ed Driggs asked state and city officials whether they had projections as to how much the tolls would cost on the two highways in south Charlotte.

“I sure would like to know what the tolling revenue studies say before we commit to the project,” Clodfelter said.

Driggs said he thought the state had an idea of how much the tolls might be.

“You know what your funding requirements are,” Driggs said. “We wouldn’t go ahead with an idea that we wouldn’t have revenue to certify the debt.”

One of the most controversial aspects of the I-77 toll lane project is that the state is partnering with a private developer to build and manage the lanes. As part of the agreement, the DOT had agreed to a noncompete clause that makes it difficult to add new lanes to the highway for 50 years.

There is no private developer for the I-485 and U.S. 74 toll lane projects. The lanes will be built and managed by the DOT, which can add more capacity if it chooses.

But because the state controls all of the project, the DOT has done scant research in projecting how the new toll lanes might work.

A state official told the Observer earlier this year the state hadn’t done projections on toll costs. It also hasn’t projected how the toll lanes will impact traffic in the general-purpose lanes.

“We have done an initial study that was a high-level study,” said Scott Cole with the DOT. “We have to do more extensive studies.”

The idea behind express toll lanes is to charge a toll that allows traffic to move at least 45 mph. If too many people want to use the toll lanes and traffic slows, the state would raise the price to discourage people from using it.

The Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization will vote in August on a long-range plan that will include toll lanes for the two highways.

The DOT said it could open the U.S. 74 toll lanes by 2017. The toll lanes on I-485 south could open in four years.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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