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I-77 toll lane hearing in Charlotte tonight

The state will hold a second and final open house and public hearing today on its proposed design and location of Interstate 77 toll lanes from Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to just past Exit 35 in Mooresville.

The open house will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and the public hearing from 7 to 9 p.m. at Lincoln Heights Academy, 1900 Newcastle St.

About 75 toll lane opponents attended the first public hearing Wednesday night in Mooresville. No one in the audience raised a hand when a speaker asked if anyone supported the $550 million project.

The state intends to choose a private contractor in August to design, build, finance and operate the lanes. The state and federal governments would contribute a total of $170 million -- $114 million from the federal government and $56 million from the state -- and the contractor would foot the rest.

The state’s tentative plan is for construction of the 26-mile project to begin in fall 2014 and the lanes opening to traffic in late 2017.

Two toll lanes on both northbound and southbound I-77 would extend from Brookshire Freeway to Exit 28 in Cornelius. One toll lane in each direction would continue to just past Exit 35 (Brawley School Road) in Mooresville.

The project would include a new “flyover” road connecting I-277 and I-77, and new I-77 bridges at Westmoreland Road in Cornelius and Griffith Street (Exit 30) in Davidson, and a reconstructed bridge at LaSalle Street in Charlotte, Jamille Robbins of the N.C. DOT in Raleigh told the crowd at Wednesday night’s public hearing at the Charles Mack Citizen Center.

Seven homes and three businesses, primarily between I-277 and I-85, would be taken under the state’s preferred route alternative, Robbins said.

State officials have said they don’t know how much the toll rate would be but that it would vary depending on congestion. Vehicles with at least three occupants could use the lanes for free, as could buses and motorcycles.

The state called the public hearings to solicit input on its three route alternatives. At the pre-hearing open houses, residents review the maps and ask questions of state right-of-way and other officials.

The 15 residents who spoke at Wednesday’s hearing focused on other issues related to the project.

They said general purpose lanes are far less expensive to build than toll lanes and recommended the state delay the project until Gov. Pat McCrory’s new funding formula for roads kicks in. Residents said I-77’s expansion in the Lake Norman area would be given far greater weight under the governor’s formula for which road needs are ranked highest.

Speakers also questioned the profitability of other toll projects across the country. In response, David Ungemah, national managed-lanes director for global consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, said 17 of the 18 HOT projects across the country generate revenue that exceeds their operational and maintenance costs.

Kurt Naas of Cornelius, who founded the anti-toll group Widen I-77, cited a federal document that no HOT (high-occupancy toll lane) project in an area with less than 2 million population has made money.

He also questioned why taxpayers will be forced to spend tens of millions of dollars to replace bridges that are structurally sound. He added that if the state opted for general purpose lanes over toll lanes, “you’re talking a fifth of the cost.”

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