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I-77 HOV Lanes to Managed Lanes Conversion


I-77 Fast Lanes aerial

In December 2004, North Carolina opened its first high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) facility: a 10-mile southbound HOV lane and a 5-mile northbound HOV lane on I-77 through Charlotte. WSP USA had developed the facility concept as part of a subarea study we had previously prepared for NCDOT. We were then retained by NCDOT to evaluate the environmental impacts that could result from construction of the HOV lanes. Our evaluation, conducted in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), determined there would be few impacts, enabling us to prepare a Categorical Exclusion. We also prepared an HOV operations plan with provisions for public outreach and enforcement training.

Continuing issues affecting travel time on I-77 subsequently led the NCDOT to retain WSP to assess the feasibility of various congestion-reduction solutions. Our new assessment determined that the optimal solution was to convert the HOV lanes to express toll lanes. The 27 miles of express lanes—the first in the state—are being developed as a public-private partnership (P3) procurement with the P3 concessionaire responsible for financing, operation, maintenance and rehabilitation of the I-77 right-of-way for 53 years. We are providing NCDOT with technical and commercial advisory services for the P3 procurement. In just 30 days, we produced a detailed assessment of the federal and state policy, regulatory, environmental, procurement, and stakeholder-support risks affecting the project. We also developed capital and operating cost estimates for the 53-year concession period, enabling NCDOT to determine the maximum amount of public funding available for the project, which will also receive funding under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA).

Our firm prepared the operational and cost/benefit analyses that secured the TIFIA funding and the request for qualifications issued to potential private partners. Four teams were prequalified and they received contract documents prepared by the firm as well as the final request for proposals.

The contract documents prepared by our firm encompass the project’s entire life cycle—from early development through asset management. We also developed the tolling services arrangements for NCDOT and the concessionaire and we were involved in the federal approval processes for the concessionaire’s financing, tolling approval and cost estimating.

As the P3 initiative began, NCDOT decided that all toll facilities in the state must use the North Carolina Turnpike Authority (NCTA) as the sole clearinghouse for all toll transactions. As a result, we worked with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), NCDOT, NCTA, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office and E-ZPass Group to develop contract requirements and redefine business processes to ensure compliance with federal express-lane tolling requirements. Another key responsibility was to assess candidate intelligent transportation system (ITS) options and toll service integrators. We developed performance metrics for their operation and maintenance during the P3 contract period as well as protocols governing their handback to NCDOT at the contract’s expiration.