I-77 widening from Charlotte to SC line likely to be delayed, DOT says

The long-awaited widening of Interstate 77 from Charlotte to the South Carolina line is expected to be delayed, with construction not beginning until fiscal 2029, under changes proposed by the N.C. Department of Transportation.

The 11-mile, $1 billion project will add two toll lanes in each direction, widening the freeway to 10 lanes between the S.C. line and Charlotte’s Brookshire Freeway, relieving traffic congestion as commuters pour into and out of the city.

A draft of the State Transportation Improvement Program, a list of projects that is updated every two years, shows the I-77 construction start date slipping to 2029. DOT says that is one year longer than previously expected but the current version of the plan said construction would start in 2027, making it a two-year delay.

The department held public comment periods on an initial draft of the STIP early in the year. The state transportation board is expected to formally adopt the final version at its Sept. 5 meeting.

DOT says it had accelerated project completions in the past two planning cycles, but that unexpected costs have slowed the pace of construction in recent years. Since 2016 the department has faced higher costs to recover from storm damage, legal settlements with landowners and cost increases to current projects.

The I-77 delay resulted from the department’s need to balance available funds, DOT spokeswoman Jennifer Thompson said.

Other Charlotte-area road projects will also be delayed, the draft STIP says.

Widening of U.S. 74 (Independence Boulevard), to three lanes in each direction with express lanes in the media, from west of Idlewild Road to I-485, has been broken into two separate projects, Thompson said.

The first project will build connections that link roads running parallel to U.S. 74 so the parallel roads can be used when work starts on U.S. 74. Construction bids are expected to be taken in fiscal 2022.

Two years later, in fiscal 2024, work will start on U.S. 74 itself.

Widening of U.S. 521 from the South Carolina line to Ballantyne Commons Parkway would begin in fiscal 2026, the draft STIP says. The current version does not list a construction start date.

The draft plan includes a new project to turn I-77 shoulders north of Charlotte into travel lanes during peak traffic times, with construction to start in fiscal 2020. The project was made possible by a funding swap that a regional transportation board approved in July.

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Bruce Henderson writes about transportation, emerging issues and interesting people for The Charlotte Observer. His reporting background is in covering energy, environment and state news.