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Divided Cornelius board backs I-77 tolls

CORNELIUS A divided Cornelius Board of Commissioners late Monday voted to back the state’s $550 million plan to have a private contractor build and operate toll lanes on Interstate 77 from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 36 in Mooresville.

Commissioners Chuck Travis and John Bradford voted in favor of the measure, while commissioners Dave Gilroy and Jeff Hare voted against, forcing Mayor Lynette Rinker to cast the deciding vote.

Travis called for the vote, saying he would take the board’s stance to a May 22 meeting of the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization, which recommends Charlotte area road projects to the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Travis, who is the town’s representative on MUMPO, has said he supports I-77 toll lanes because they would happen far sooner than general purpose lanes and offer guaranteed travel time given far fewer cars in those lanes. State transportation officials have said the state doesn’t have the money to add general purpose lanes to I-77 for another 25 years or more.

The state plans to select one of four bidders on the project in August. The contract would run for 50 years to give the contractor time to recoup its investment needed to build the lanes. The amount motorists would pay to ride in the toll lanes isn’t known, state officials have said.

The project would include two toll lanes in each direction from the Brookshire Freeway to Exit 28 in Cornelius and one toll lane in each direction from Exit 28 to Exit 36. Vehicles with at least three occupants could ride in the toll lanes for free.

Toll lane opponents decried the Cornelius board’s vote.

“Why are some elected officials supporting a scheme to guarantee increasing traffic congestion on the general purpose lanes for 50 years?” former Cornelius commissioner William Rakatansky asked in an email Tuesday.

“All that will occur is that there will be more vehicles, more tractor-trailers, more frustration and more fuel burned up sitting idly in massive congestion that, I predict, within 30 years, will have Charlotte/North Mecklenburg/Iredell County rush hour be extended from the present 1 to 1-1/2 hour scenario to a 5- or 6-hour long ordeal in both the morning and evening.”

Rakatansky vowed that opponents will work to defeat elected officials who supported the tolls, in the November general election.

Marusak: 704-987-3670; on Twitter: @ jmarusak.
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