A judge on Tuesday is scheduled to hear from attorneys involved in a lawsuit that aims to stop planned toll lanes on Interstate 77 from Charlotte to Mooresville.
Judge W. Osmond Smith III is scheduled to hear legal motions in the case at 9:30 a.m. at Alamance County Historic Courthouse in Graham, according to Widen I77. The citizens group filed a complaint in January seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions against the project.
Smith was appointed to hear the group’s complaint against the N.C. Department of Transportation and I-77 Mobility Partners LLC, a subsidiary of the project’s contractor, Cintra US.
The group contends the project would violate state law in part by converting a stretch of an existing general purpose lane into a toll lane.
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“Our hope is that the injunction will show this privatization of our public infrastructure and roads is an unconstitutional way to proceed,” Widen I77 member Vince Winegardner has said.
Widen I77 raised about $20,000 from about 100 concerned residents to file the complaint. The group is represented by the Charlotte law firm of Arnold & Smith.
In separate statements after Widen I77 filed the complaint, N.C. DOT and I-77 Mobility Partners said they won’t comment on pending litigation but cited what they called the project’s benefits.
The lanes will provide “a long-term solution to one of the most congested roadways in our state,” the Transportation Department said.
Drivers can choose to continue using general purpose lanes for free, use the new express lanes for free with three or more people in the car or pay the toll with fewer occupants, N.C. DOT said.
“Through a Public Private Partnership, this solution will be operational in a few years instead of waiting decades, and it will be built at a fraction of the cost to the state,” N.C. DOT said.
The project will help relieve congestion and create nearly 10,000 jobs, with nearly 100 North Carolina firms expected to participate in the construction, I-77 Mobility Partners said in its statement.
The project will add two toll lanes northbound and southbound on I-77 from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 28 in Cornelius. It will add one toll lane in each direction from Exit 28 to Exit 36.
Cintra will pay most of the costs and, for 50 years, will maintain and operate the lanes while collecting most of the toll revenue. Toll amounts have not been determined.
State officials have said North Carolina couldn’t afford to widen the road itself, and toll lanes are the best way to expand the road quickly.
Kurt Naas of Widen I77, however, has said it’s far cheaper for the state to expand the highway – about $100 million for a general purpose lane compared with the $655 million price tag with Cintra.