November 19, 2019—It has come to my attention, from a local television news broadcast in Charlotte, NC, that although the I-77 express lanes are open, the construction on the highway, particularly, on the non-express, non-toll lanes, this construction is not finished. I cannot source the local television news broadcast.
However, after conducting some original reporting myself, I can attest that construction continues on I-77 in Charlotte, NC, although the toll lanes look to be complete. I can attest, also, that the operator of the roadway is charging tolls for use of the express lanes North of Charlotte. I rely on official statements from the North Carolina Department of Transportation regarding the toll lanes. These statements corroborate my own observations, although I have not driven these toll lanes, myself. The spokesperson for the NC DOT Communications Office did say that the toll lanes are open and that the company is charging for their use. I was unable to verify this on the highway, itself.
There is some ambiguity and confusion regarding whether the highway project itself is considered complete, or not. I can attest that the non-express lanes, the non-toll lanes, do still have active construction on I-77 in Charlotte. Spokespeople for the NC DOT did not give a clear answer on the non-toll lanes in a brief phone interview by me. The Communications Officer for this region, covering Charlotte, NC, Jennifer Thompson, has not returned my call at press time.
What I take away from all of this is that although the toll lanes or express lanes are open and charging, construction on the rest of the roadway is not complete. Therefore, the project is not finished. I must amend my conclusions from my previous blog post. Although state leadership has done something, regarding the congestion on this highway, the work remains unfinished, at this time. Driving the non-toll lanes on this highway remains difficult. The I-77 political open sore is not entirely healed, therefore. I-77 will continue to hurt the current governor, Roy Cooper, until work on the roadway is in fact complete. Headache for drivers, regardless of stated positions by the NC DOT, equals political pain for the governor.
I can say that although the NC DOT is making progress on the roadway, with the driving situation improving, the project remains unfinished. Until such time as this roadway is in fact finished, there will be political pain for the governor. I wish the Governor, Roy Cooper, all the best in finishing this project as soon as possible. I think his intentions are good, but the work remains unfinished.
A note on sources. I conducted a brief phone interview with the NC DOT Communications Office myself, after writing the previous post. The Communications Officer herself for the region covering Charlotte did not return my call by press time. Previous media reports have been misleading. These media reports include the former Governor of North Carolina, current radio host Pat McCrory, on his radio show on WBT (AM-1110), on his morning radio show on November 18, 2019. On reporting, correctly, that the toll lanes were open, he implied, incorrectly, that the entire highway was finished. He noted that the whole controversy surrounded the toll lanes, not the entire highway. I disagree. I think people are concerned with the toll lanes, or express lanes, but they are also concerned with the entire experience of driving on the highway, including the non-express lanes. I would not call his report inaccurate, but I would call it misleading.
Similarly, a print report in The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC, 11/17/2019, p. 13A) was also misleading. In this article, by reporter Joe Marusak, the Observer reported that all of the toll lanes had been opened on Saturday, 11/16/2019, according to the project contractor. The article continued in this vein, and implied that work on the roadway was finished. As I have noted above in this blog post, construction work continues on I-77 on the non-toll lanes in Charlotte. Therefore, again, although nothing in the article was factually inaccurate, the article itself was misleading to readers.
Although the toll lanes are open and finished, reportedly, and from what I can see from personal observation, construction remains a headache on the non-toll lanes on I-77. That means the company is offering a pay-for-use experience for drivers that is finished, while charging drivers to drive this section of roadway, but the highway itself, in particular the free section of the roadway, remains a work-in-progress. If you want to drive for free, deal with the construction. If you want to pay and use the express lanes, then as soon as you can get to the express lanes, enjoy your finished ride. This current situation seems insulting to drivers on I-77. Nonetheless, I hope they finish the entire roadway soon, and deliver on an overall improvement to the highway.
My sources for the other subjects in my previous blog post, on the NC State budget, medicaid expansion, and the teacher pay raises, include two articles published by The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC). These include one printed on 11/9/2019, p. 1A, and one printed on 11/1/2019, p. 1A. These articles are both written by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan, from Raleigh, NC.