A bill introduced in Raleigh last week looked promising to opponents of the states planned Interstate 77 toll lanes from Charlotte to Mooresville. House Bill 267s language said it would block tolls from being imposed on existing interstates without approval from the state legislature.
Opponents of planned tolls on Interstate 77 between the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte and Exit 36 in Mooresville thought that meant the states final plans would have to go before the House and Senate.
But state Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, who later signed on in support of the bill, said Tuesday the bill refers to existing free lanes on interstates and roads not to new lanes that would be built for tolls or existing high occupancy vehicle lanes that would be converted into toll lanes.
Brawley said the General Assembly approved high-occupancy toll lanes for Interstate 77 in 2012 because it was the only way to get additional capacity to I-77 North in the next 25 years.
The state intends to select a private consortium in August to design, build and operate the I-77 toll lanes. Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2014, with some segments opening in 2016. The lanes would be the first privately operated toll lanes in North Carolina, and the contract would be for 50 years.
The project calls for adding two toll lanes on 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.
Brawley told the Observer he supports the bill because it protects the existing free lanes on I-77 from being tolled.
I-77 toll lane opponents first raised questions about the language of the bill in emails, saying it was difficult to decipher whether the bill favored or opposed new toll lanes.
Its very deceptive, I-77 toll lane opponent Vallee Bubak said. You take a citizen who goes online and thinks it means one thing, and theres a different agenda behind it.
She said she urges residents who are concerned about I-77 tolls to speak up at public gatherings such as Wednesday nights information meeting in Mooresville.
State Rep. Elmer Floyd, D-Cumberland, was one of the bills primary sponsors. Floyd said Tuesday he favors the bill because it would slow the state from putting tolls on existing lanes of Interstate 95, which runs through his district in southeastern North Carolina.
Two other sponsors of the bill are from parts of the state through which I-95 travels. A citizens group based in Roanoke Rapids in the northern part of the state has gathered at least 5,000 signatures of business leaders and other residents on a petition opposing the states plans for I-95 toll lanes.
Floyd said tolls would be a burden for many residents in his district. The southeastern part of our state is not very strong economically, he said.
The bills fourth primary sponsor is state Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, who couldnt be reached Tuesday.
Marusak: 704-987-3670; Twitter @ jmarusak
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