The N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has announced that Cintra Infraestructures S.A. is the apparent successful bidder for the state’s first public-private partnership (P3) contract to improve the traffic flow along 26 miles of I-77 in the Charlotte area, one of the most congested roadways in the state.
P3 contracts are an innovative way of leveraging new funding sources to lessen the financial impact to the state and help complete projects sooner through investments by a private firm. Following a required bidding process, and pending final review, it appears Cintra will construct the I-77 project through a joint venture with F.A. Southeast, W.C. English and the lead design firm of the Louis Berger Group.
Cintra, a worldwide leader in managed-lanes projects, estimates the total project cost at $655 million. Cintra will invest the majority of that in return for toll revenue generated from the managed lanes. NCDOT will contribute $88 million for the project, which is significantly less than the $170 million it had projected.
The agreement is expected to be signed in June, with construction beginning as early as this December. The project is expected to be complete in 2018.
“We are excited to take this significant step forward and address a critical need,” said NCDOT Chief Engineer Mike Holder. “Innovative funding solutions like this one are vital to keep up with growth and infrastructure needed to strengthen the economy despite declining transportation revenue from traditional sources.”
The proposed I-77 project includes converting the current high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, which already exist along I-77, and adding capacity to the roadway. The existing HOV lanes and new lanes will be high-occupancy managed lanes that allow free use for eligible carpoolers (three passengers or greater), buses and motorcyclists, while allowing other drivers to pay a toll to use those lanes. Tolls will vary to control the number of vehicles in the high-occupancy lanes and help ensure free-flowing traffic even during morning and evening rush hours. The price would be higher during peak periods when demand is greater and lower during less congested periods. Drivers can still use free, general-purpose lanes to avoid paying a toll. This project will not remove or add any general-purpose lanes. A number of other states including Virginia, Florida, Texas, Colorado and California are already using managed lanes.
The project will add capacity to I-77 between Brookshire Freeway (Exit 11) in Charlotte and N.C. 150 (Exit 36) in Iredell County. This portion of the I-77 corridor already experiences significant congestion, and projections show a 2-3% increase in traffic volume is expected every year through 2030.
Improvements also will include a flyover bridge to provide the managed lanes direct access from I-77 to I-277, and the widening of southbound I-77 lanes in some areas. The added lanes will increase capacity through the corridor, improve-travel time reliability, improve air quality and better manage traffic flow along I-77.
Cintra has more than four decades of experience as a private developer of transportation projects around the world. Its current projects include locations in Texas, Indiana and Illinois, as well as in Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Ireland and Australia.