Toll lanes are coming to Charlotte commutes. Here’s where all 5 toll projects currently stand

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Florida transplants might be used to toll roads, but most Charlotteans are not.

North Carolina currently only operates one toll road, but that’s soon to change. Two toll lane projects are expected to open in and around Charlotte by the end of the year.

You’ve almost certainly heard of one of them — the controversial toll lanes on I-77 heading north from Charlotte. For several years, the Lake Norman area has been calling for the state to cancel the contract with a private company to operate the lanes. While campaigning in 2016, Gov. Roy Cooper said he was in favor of canceling the contract. His administration said this week, however, that it’s not feasible.

Despite the opposition to those toll lanes, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is barreling ahead on at least three other projects that would add tolls to congested Charlotte commuter paths.

Here’s the current status on all of them.


I-77 north of Charlotte

Length: 26 miles, from Uptown Charlotte to Iredell County.

Pricing: Variable. The lanes are designed to maintain a constant speed of at least 45 miles per hour. The price will rise as demand rises, keeping them empty enough to keep traffic moving.

Ownership: A private company called Cintra has built the lanes and will collect the tolls for 50 years.

Status: Construction has been ongoing since 2016. The lanes are expected to open later this year.


Monroe Expressway

Length: 20 miles roughly parallel to U.S. 74, from I-485 to Wingate.

Pricing: Approximately 17 cents per mile, according to published rates.

Ownership: The N.C. Turnpike Authority will operate the tolls.

Status: This road has been under construction since 2015 and is expected to complete later this year.

Map by the N.C. Turnpike Authority


These next three are earlier in the process, but very much in the plans.


I-485

Length: 16 miles, from Exit 67 at I-77 to Exit 51 at U.S. 74.

Pricing: Variable to keep a constant speed, just like the I-77 toll lanes.

Ownership: The N.C. Turnpike Authority will operate the tolls. They also plan to add one new free lane from Rea Road to Providence Road.

Status: Construction is expected to begin in 2019 and finish up in 2022. The North Carolina Department of Transportation has been holding public meetings to get input on them in recent weeks.


U.S. 74

Length: There are two phases here. The first is 6 miles from I-277 to Albemarle Road. The second is 6.3 miles, from Conference Drive to I-485.

Pricing: Variable to keep a constant speed, just like the I-77 toll lanes.

Ownership: The N.C. Turnpike Authority will operate the tolls.

Status: Construction on Phase 1 could start as early as this year and finish by in 2019. Construction on Phase 2 is expected to begin in 2022.


I-77 south of Charlotte

Length: 9.4 miles, from Uptown Charlotte to the South Carolina line.

Pricing: Variable to keep a constant speed, just like the I-77 toll lanes.

Ownership: The N.C. Turnpike Authority will operate the tolls.

Status: This project is proposed in the State Transportation Improvement Plan for 2020-2029. Should it get funding, construction would not likely begin until 2025 at the earliest.

I-485 at dawn.


Here are a couple more toll-related questions and answers.

Why tolls?

The general argument is that the traditional method of funding road construction won’t work in booming areas like Charlotte. The state is pursuing “express lanes” or “managed lanes” with variable pricing in most cases to give people a predictable travel time on common commuter paths.

Will there be toll booths?

Nope. The state wants you to use a transponder called the N.C. Quick Pass, and that will get you a better rate.

If you don’t have one, there will be cameras to take a picture of your license plate and send you a bill by mail.

Will tolls be put on existing lanes?

No, that’s not in the plans. Only new lanes will have tolls.

However, this is really annoying some people who see an available lane on I-485 that’s being reserved for tolls in the future. The state won’t open the lane because then they can’t put tolls on it.

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Andrew Dunn
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