MOORESVILLE About 85 opponents of planned Interstate 77 toll lanes from Charlotte to Mooresville attended a meeting of the Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission on Wednesday night, with some sporting No Tolls stickers and a half-dozen holding up No Tolls banners.
Im holding this banner because in three years I wont have enough money to pay the tolls, said Chase Bubak, 13, of Davidson, referring to when hell be old enough to drive.
Some residents wore red shirts, sweaters and jackets to the informational meeting held for local elected officials to learn more about managed lanes and the states plans for toll lanes from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 36 in Mooresville. Residents were invited to sit on one side of the meeting room at the Charles Mack Citizen Center and public officials n the other half of the room.
Concerned residents said they wore red to show the state that many people feel the interstate should be expanded with general-purpose lanes and not lanes requiring drivers to pay a toll to use.
A state highway official joined officials from global transportation consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff to provide information and field questions.
The state intends to select a private, for-profit company in August to design, build, operate and maintain the toll lanes. Four companies are in the running, some of whom are already involved in Charlotte area highway projects.
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, when the lanes would revert to the state to manage.
Most of us will be dead by then, Iredell County commissioner Ken Robertson quipped at the meeting.
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.
Drivers would be charged a higher toll during peak traffic hours, but officials at Wednesdays meeting said they didnt know how much I-77 drivers could be charged.
When you build widgets at a factory, you should know how much those widgets would cost, Robertson said to applause from toll-lane opponents.
Robertson also drew applause when he earlier noted that other Charlotte area highways and other highways elsewhere across the state are being improved without tolls.
We finally have a governor from this area and a Speaker of the House from this area, Robertson said. Im just not so sure there isnt another option we ought not to be looking at.
The Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission backed the use of toll lanes on I-77 in 2010. Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville and the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization also have backed such lanes. The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce endorsed the idea of managed lanes in 2011, and the General Assembly in Raleigh approved toll lanes for I-77 in 2012. The Huntersville-based Lake Norman Economic Development Corp. also backs toll lanes.
Jim Trogdon, chief operating officer of the N.C. Department of Transportation, has said it would take until 2030 or beyond for the state to have the money to add more taxpayer-funded general purpose lanes to I-77.
But the project has generated opposition in recent months from a lake-area community group called Widen I-77 and a Cornelius advisory board that in early January urged the state to consider all options, not only tolls, to pay for expanding the interstate.
The Northcross Property Owners Association, which represents most businesses at I-77 Exit 25 in Huntersville, also opposes the lanes. The association is very concerned that the proposal will be extremely detrimental to business along the I-77 corridor and counterproductive to promoting road use across all economic classes, association treasurer Alex Kilgour said in a Feb. 12 email.
Bill Thunberg, executive director of the Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission, announced Wednesday that more public meetings are scheduled on the toll-lane proposal, including from 5 to 7 p.m. April 10 at the Central Piedmont Community College satellite campus on Verhoeff Drive in Huntersville and 5 to 7 p.m. April 11 at Oaklawn Language Academy in Charlotte.