A Cornelius advisory board is urging the state to consider all options not only tolls to pay for expanding Interstate 77 from Charlotte to Mooresville.
It is our belief that forcing Lake Norman area motorists to pay a toll to use the new lanes would impose additional financial burdens on our area residents, the Cornelius Transportation Advisory Board said in a resolution passed 6-0 Thursday night.
Based on data it collected, the panel said toll lanes also wouldnt solve I-77 congestion.
The board instead declared its unanimous support of a recent resolution by Cornelius commissioner Dave Gilroy that urges the Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission to consider all options for more lanes between Exit 23 in Huntersville and Exit 36 in Mooresville, including general purpose lanes. The commission includes elected officials and town managers from Huntersville, Davidson, Cornelius and Mooresville and makes recommendations on lake area road priorities to the state Department of Transportation.
Since 2011, the state has planned to convert I-77s high-occupancy vehicle lanes to toll lanes, saying it doesnt otherwise have the money to expand the interstate.
The lanes would be the first privately operated toll lanes in North Carolina, but a recently formed Lake Norman area citizens group thats opposed to toll lanes cites a state document that concludes toll lanes would do little to reduce congestion on I-77s general purpose lanes.
Toll lanes also would be more expensive than general purpose lanes, in part because of the $2 million a year needed to operate them, said Charlotte business owner Kurt Naas, who leads the citizens group, Widen I-77, and is a member of the Cornelius Transportation Advisory Board. The private contractor also would expect a profit from managing the lanes, he said.
The project calls for adding two toll lanes on both northbound and southbound I-77 between the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte and Exit 28 in Cornelius. Cars with at least three occupants would avoid a toll to use the lanes.
One toll lane in each direction would continue between Exit 28 and Exit 36. The causeways over Lake Norman arent wide enough to accommodate two high occupancy toll lanes in each direction north of Exit 28, former DOT engineer Barry Moose has said.
Toll rates would vary throughout the day depending on traffic volume. No toll booths will be required; drivers will pay electronically. Cameras would spot whether toll-lane drivers had enough occupants to avoid a toll. Violators would be mailed a bill.
The state is scheduled to select a company in August to build and operate the toll lanes. Construction is set to begin in summer 2014, with some segments opening in 2016, state transportation officials have said.
Residents at Thursdays meeting criticized the states plans; none of the 10 who spoke voiced support. One resident said tolls are an insult to taxpayers.
Another resident, Heather Pickford, couldnt make the meeting but expressed her opposition in an email to the board. Pickford told the Observer she lives in Charlotte and drives her three children along I-77 each day to Community School of Davidson, a public charter school.
I grew up in a state (Massachusetts) with toll roads and realize the tolls never ever go away and always keep increasing, she wrote. I just came back from Florida with my family, and we paid almost $16 for a one-way trip on the Florida Turnpike. If we dont have the money to improve the road right now, then wait until we do.
DOT spokesman Steve Abbott told the Observer recently the state intends to have another public meeting on the project before summer. No final alternative plan has been selected, and we have not finalized any document that sets everything in stone as yet, he said.
Marusak: 704-987-3670; on Twitter @ jmarusak
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