CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The shoulders along Interstate 77 north of Charlotte will soon be used as travel lanes during peak traffic times to cut down on congestion, according to the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO).
CRTPO approved a request Wednesday by the North Carolina Department of Transportation to take state money from 20 other projects to fund the I-77 peak-period shoulder lane (PPSL) project. According to a CRTPO spokesperson, the board also gave NCDOT the approval to include the project in the 2020-2029 State Transportation Improvement Plan.
The PPSL is a short-term recommendation to reduce congestion between Interstate 485 in Huntersville and Highway 150 in Mooresville. The project would be funded with $47 million currently allocated to eight bicycle and pedestrian projects and 12 road projects across the state.
Construction on the project will not begin until all work is finished on the toll lanes north of the city. A section of toll lane from Huntersville to Mooresville opened earlier this year. The almost $700 million project has been the center of controversy since its inception.
In response, a spokesperson for I-77 Mobility Partners, which operates the toll lanes built by Cintra, pushed back.
"We are very disappointed by the CRTPO’s decision to authorize changes to the use of outside shoulders along the I-77 managed lanes corridor. As seen in the first month of I-77 Express operations, the new lanes have presented motorists with an increasingly popular travel option along the corridor. The presence of the express lanes is also increasing travel speeds and reducing drive times in the general-purpose lanes. The NCDOT proposal tries to address issues that the express lanes are already visibly improving. Furthermore, pursuant to the Comprehensive Agreement, modifying the outside shoulders adjacent to the general-purpose lanes to accept general-purpose lane traffic is only permitted with fair compensation"
Several drivers expressed concern about the shoulder not being available for an emergency.
"There should always be a shoulder,” one driver said. “A place to go."
"I think we need shoulders to be safe, " another driver said.
Huntersville Fire said anyone who gets into a minor accident or has a flat tire should try to get off the interstate.
However, if a driver gets stuck in a travel lane and is unable to get off the highway, firefighters recommend the driver turn on their car’s flashers, get out of the vehicle and run away from the highway to the grass.
RELATED: Protesters refuel heated I-77 debate