Lake Norman-area residents on Monday night blasted the state’s planned toll lanes on Interstate 77 between Charlotte and Mooresville.
Speaking before a standing-room-only crowd, 10 residents told the Cornelius Board of Commissioners that the price of the lanes will discriminate against lower-income residents. They said the project should have been put to a vote.
“I thought I was living in America, where we had a right to vote,” resident Ed Biggers told the Cornelius commissioners before a state highway official updated the board on the $655 million project. “Obviously, I’m not living in America.”
Jay Privette of Charlotte said, “Nobody’s going to want to pay the toll. What businesses are going to want to move into this area? It’s going to be a discouragement. I think we’re looking very shortsighted on this.”
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Other residents said the state should instead consider expanding U.S. 21 and N.C. 115, which run parallel to the interstate, or I-77’s general purpose lanes.
No resident in the room spoke in favor of the project, and those who took to the podium received applause from the crowd.
“This is just a small sampling” of residents opposed to the lanes, Cornelius commissioner Jim Duke told state officials. “This has been a very painful experience for this community. You have to understand, these folks don’t trust you.”
In April, the state selected Cintra Infraestructuras, based in Madrid, Spain, to finance, build and operate the lanes. The financial close and final contract signature are scheduled for Dec. 1.
The state will spend $88 million on the project. Cintra will pay the rest of the $655 million cost and collect toll revenue for 50 years.
Cintra will convert an existing carpool lane into a toll lane and will build another toll lane to Exit 28 in Cornelius. One toll lane will extend to Mooresville Exit 36.
The southern-most leg of the project will extend from I-277 near Tryon Street to I-77 North for about two miles, and along I-277 from I-77 North to Brevard Street. A flyover bridge will provide direct access between I-277 and I-77.
Construction could start next year, and the lanes are expected to open in 2018, Rodger Rochelle of the N.C. Department of Transportation told the Cornelius board Monday night.
“This is a matter of choice for the users,” Rochelle said. “No one is taking away the general purpose lanes.”
The managed lanes will have electronic tolling, with no toll booths along the 26 miles, he said.
The toll lanes will have variable pricing. During rush hour, the price will rise. The cost will drop during off-peak times.
Toll prices haven’t been set, state transportation officials said Monday. Per state law, Cintra will conduct public hearings as part of developing the rates.
A DOT consultant in 2012 projected that a one-way, rush-hour toll from Charlotte to Mooresville could be $11.75 when the road initially opens.
By 2035, that toll could increase to $21.63, according to the consultant.
State transportation officials countered those figures, saying most motorists will end up paying only about $2 per trip.
Commissioner Dave Gilroy, who has opposed the project for years, said the Charlotte-Lake Norman region deserves better funding from the state for its clogged arteries. He called the planned toll rates “fundamentally unfair.”
“Even if it’s half the projection, these rates will be expensive,” he said. “On a monthly basis, you’re looking at hundreds of dollars added to a family’s budget. Those people will be condemned to congested lanes, which is outrageous.”