State Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Iredell, said Sunday he opposes toll lanes on Interstate 77 – the first state politician to openly oppose the N.C. Department of Transportation’s $550 million plan.
“Our problem with I-77 should be solved by common sense and not grand schemes that place an unfair burden on the public,” Brawley said. “I ask my fellow legislators to join me in saving the taxpayer funds.”
The state plans to build two toll lanes on northbound and southbound I-77 from Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 28 in Cornelius. From there, one toll lane would extend in each direction to Exit 36.
To avoid the tolls, cars would have to carry at least three occupants.
One of four private companies vying for the job will design, build and operate the toll lanes, which would be under contract for 50 years and would be the first privately operated toll lanes in the state.
The cost of the tolls is unknown.
Brawley said he previously thought that adding toll lanes to the interstate was the only way the state could afford the widening project without delaying all transportation projects in the area.
After reviewing funding options and speaking with constituents, he said, he now believes that’s not the case.
“We do not need to toll 27 miles for $550 million when 14 miles of general purpose lanes for $100 million solves our problem,” Brawley said.
Brawley referred to a 2009 consulting study done for the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization that said adding four general-purpose lanes from mile marker 22 to Exit 28 and two lanes from Exit 28 to Exit 31 would cost less than $100 million.
Opponents favor a similar option, extending to Exit 36, which they estimate would cost about the same.
That plan, he said, would increase the road’s capacity by 50 percent.
Brawley spoke Sunday to members of the media and members of WidenI77.org, a citizen group that opposes adding toll lanes to the highway.
Members of WidenI77.org said they were grateful for Brawley’s support.
Tim Scott, a Cornelius resident and volunteer with the group, has helped collect some 2,000 signatures from those who do not want the proposed tolls. He said the representative’s backing gives the group needed momentum.
“I applaud Mr. Brawley’s effort to push back,” Scott said. “It takes courage and willpower and determination.”
Vallee Bubak, another group volunteer, said tolls would not be fair to those who can’t afford them or to the neighboring communities that would see extra traffic as motorists look to avoid the tolls.
But even with Brawley’s support, it could be too late to stop the proposed project.
Since 2011, the state has sought to convert I-77’s high-occupancy lanes to toll lanes as a means to fund the interstate’s expansion.
State transportation officials have said North Carolina doesn’t have the money to widen the interstate. Without a private partner, widening I-77 wouldn’t begin for 20 or 25 years, they’ve said.
Later this month, the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization will vote on whether to amend its transportation plan, which would enable the state to proceed with the proposed toll project.
Staff writer Joe Marusak contributed.
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