Construction of Interstate 77 toll lanes from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 36 in Mooresville is on track to start next spring or summer, with the new lanes opening in four years, state highway officials and representatives of the Spain-based contractor on the project said Thursday.
The officials spoke at three meetings in the Lake Norman area on Thursday to update elected officials and town staffs on the $650 million project that Cintra Infraestructuras S.A. will finance, design, build and manage.
The state didn’t announce the meetings to the public. The meetings came to light on Wednesday after Huntersville commissioner Rob Kidwell notified media members in an email. Meetings were held in Mooresville, Davidson and Huntersville.
To ensure the meetings stayed closed, only up to two elected commissioners from each town attended the meetings. That meant the meetings lacked a quorum of elected officials, which would have required the meetings be open.
A sign on the entrance doors to Davidson Town Hall said: “Notice. The public will not be admitted to the 1:00 p.m. meeting in the Board Room.”
In a statement Wednesday, Kurt Naas of Widen I-77, the citizens group opposed to the tolls, criticized the meetings being closed. “This closed-door secrecy characterizes the entire process,” he said.
The state opened the meetings after news reporters showed up and state officials asked officials at the meetings for their OK in letting the public in.
“This wasn’t set up as a closed meeting but a discussion with conversation,” Shelley Blake, general counsel for the state Department of Transportation, told the media at Davidson Town Hall. “We wanted them to be as open as they could..
Cornelius commissioner Dave Gilroy, who opposes the tolls, raised concerns during the Mooresville meeting about whether enough people will ride the lanes to make the project profitable.
“You are going to take a bath on this project,” Gilroy told Javier Tamargo, Cintra’s CEO for the project.
“We are completely committed to this project,” Tamargo replied.
The project will include two toll lanes in each direction from the Brookshire Freeway (I-277) to Exit 28 in Cornelius and one toll lane in each direction from Cornelius to Mooresville. The same number of general purpose lanes as exist today will be maintained.
State and Cintra officials said it’s far too early to say how much the tolls will cost but that they will be nowhere near the $21 mentioned in an old study.
Drivers will have six places to enter and exit the managed lanes along the route.