Traffic flows along Interstate 77 near Exit 31 in this 2018 photo.

I-77 Mobility Partners has announced that the southern section of I-77 Express from I-485 to I-277 in uptown Charlotte opened Saturday, beginning at 8 p.m. With the opening, drivers will now be able to use all 26 miles of I-77 Express.

“Since I-77 Express opened on June 1 in the Lake Norman area, more than 2.7 million trips have been taken on the express lanes by over 515,000 different vehicles,” said Javier Tamargo, CEO of I-77 Mobility Partners. “We are proud to make this private investment to develop the first managed lanes in North Carolina. Through partnership with NCDOT and Sugar Creek Construction, we are able to deliver this project and other infrastructure improvements along the existing portion of I-77 sooner than traditional funding would have allowed for the State of North Carolina and motorists. I-77 Express adds a travel option to a key interstate corridor and a new component to the Charlotte region’s comprehensive transportation network.”

I-77 Express says that in October, average speeds during the morning rush hour increased by 15%, and speeds during the afternoon rush hour increased by 17% when compared with pre-opening speeds in October 2018.

I-77 Express runs adjacent to the existing general-purpose lanes. Drivers have the option of using the express lanes for more reliable travel times, the general-purpose lanes or a combination of both. The number of free general-purpose lanes remains the same.

In addition to the building of the express lanes, multiple structures were replaced, improved or constructed, including:

» New, direct connector ramps at the I-277/Brookshire Freeway into and from I-77 Express.

» Replaced I-277 southbound ramp to I-77 Southbound.

» Replaced Oaklawn Avenue bridge and added new sidewalks, bike lanes and lighting.

» Replaced LaSalle Street bridge and added new sidewalks, bike lanes and lighting, and extended.

the I-77 on-ramp all the way to the I-85 interchange.

» New direct connector ramps providing access to I-85.

» Replaced Lakeview and Hambright Road bridges, and added sidewalks, bike lanes and lighting, and new, direct connector ramps to I-77 Express. (Drivers will be able to access the Lakeview Road Direct Connector approximately one week after I-77 Express opens.).

» New pedestrian tunnel under I-77 in Huntersville for future connection of the Torrence Creek Greenway.

» New roundabouts at the Griffith Street Bridge for the Town of Davidson.

» Installed over 1 million square feet of noise walls along the corridor.

» Rehabilitated the general-purpose lanes in the corridor.

The northern section, from Hambright Road to Exit 36 in Mooresville, opened June 1.

The project has been controversial, with N.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon suggesting during an August 2018 meeting with the I-77 Express Lanes Local Advisory Group that the contract with Cintra, which financed most of the cost of the project on its own, should be renegotiated with better terms for drivers and permanent discounts for frequent users.

He stated at the time that buying out the $660 million contract was not feasible for that time or 2019.

The lanes are maintained by I-77 Mobility Partners, a policy of the public-private partnership the company has with the DOT.

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