Anti-toll lane signs irk candidate
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Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013

Anti-toll lane signs irk candidate

  • Candidates opposed to I-77 tolls Toll Free NC, a citizens group opposed to planned tolls on Interstate 77, is endorsing these Lake Norman area candidates in the Nov. 5 general election: Huntersville: Mayoral candidate Jim Puckett, commissioner candidates Danny Phillips (incumbent), Franklin Freeman and Rob Kidwell. Cornelius: Commissioner candidates Dave Gilroy (incumbent), Michael Miltich and Robert Ageenko. Davidson: Vince Winegardner, Rick Short, Beth Cashion, Stacey Anderson.

A Lake Norman area citizens group opposed to Interstate 77 toll lanes has removed campaign signs that said Cornelius commissioner candidate Del Arrendale supported the group’s cause.

The signs asked voters to support Arrendale and two other candidates for town commissioner, saying they opposed tolls.

Arrendale demanded the group remove the signs, saying in an Oct. 10 email that I-77 toll lanes from Charlotte to Mooresville are “a done deal” and that candidates elected to the Cornelius Board of Commissioners on Nov. 5 “will make the best of it.”

“The ugly signs around Town are unwelcomed in our community,” Arrendale said in the email. “All of us candidates are running because we love Cornelius and feel we can make a difference for our Town. I was as surprised as anyone to hear about those signs. I do not condone those signs, never would, and asked the Widen I77 group to remove them.”

State Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Mooresville, countered Arrendale’s claim that the project is a done deal during an interview with the Observer on Oct. 15. Brawley, who opposes I-77 tolls, said the state Senate hasn’t approved funding for the project. While a private contractor would finance most of the $550 million project, the state plans to contribute $170 million of the costs.

Meanwhile, Toll Free NC, formerly known as Widen I77, has decided to keep up its other signs urging voters to “fire” Cornelius commissioner John Bradford and Huntersville commissioner Sarah McAulay because of their votes in favor of toll lanes, group spokeswoman Vallee Bubak of Davidson said.

The black signs say, “Fire Bradford: He Supports Toll$” and “Fire McAulay: She Supports Toll$.”

“I do not appreciate it,” McAulay told WCNC-TV, the Observer’s news partner, on Oct. 11, referring to the signs. “But I did expect something from the people involved in this.”

McAulay also is chairperson of the agency formerly known as the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization, which recommends Charlotte area road priorities to the state. In May, the panel voted unanimously to amend its current and long-range transportation plans to include the $550 million project.

Toll lane opponents in the audience booed and shouted down members of the panel. The vote meant the N.C. Department of Transportation would move forward with the planned toll lanes.

Hearing that some residents were upset about the “Fire Bradford” and “Fire McAulay” signs, too, Bubak told the Observer in an email, the citizens group initially removed the signs to check with other volunteers, residents and business owners for their perspective.

“While some people felt that the signs were a bit harsh, the overwhelming majority of citizens and business owners felt that the positives of the signs outweighed the negatives,” Bubak said.

“...Are the signs harsh? For some, yes,” Bubak said. “Are they truthful? Yes. Do I wish that our months and months of polite and kind requests were effective in getting elected officials to represent the will of their constituents? Yes. Have Bradford and McAulay listened to their constituents’ kind requests? No.”

Said toll lane opponent Mark Neroni of Cornelius: “With 50 years of tolls at stake costing commuters thousands of dollars per year (yes thousands), we literally cannot afford to just vote for the nice guy.”

In response to the signs, Bradford has posted red signs saying “Re-hire Bradford. He works for all of Cornelius.”

Arrendale, meanwhile, said in his email that he wanted to apologize to Bradford and Bradford’s wife for Arrendale’s name having been associated with the group opposed to toll lanes.

“I am sorry you had to try to explain to your children” the ‘Fire Bradford’ signs,” Arrendale said in the email. “I am sorry our community has been divided itself like this.”

Arrendale said he has always liked and respected Bradford, voted for him the first time around, will do so again on Nov. 5 and urges his supporters to vote for Bradford as well.

All five Cornelius Board of Commissioner seats are up for election Nov. 5. Seats are for two-year terms. The two-year mayoral seat also is on the ballot, and current Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Travis, who voted in favor of the toll lanes as a commissioner, is the lone candidate.

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

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