Charlotte’s main transportation planning organization voted Wednesday night to approve a 10-year plan that includes the much-maligned I-77 toll lanes project stretching from Uptown Charlotte to Iredell County.
The Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization’s 54-10 vote allows the area Transit Improvement Plan to be incorporated into a state plan for hundreds of infrastructure projects.
Despite widespread opposition to the toll lanes project, the transit plan passed, mostly on the strength of Charlotte representative Vi Lyles’ 31 votes for it.
At Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center Wednesday night, most members of the public who spoke before the vote voiced opposition for the toll lanes. The opponents who spoke were greeted by applause from members of Widen I-77, the group that has sued to stop the project and vows to keep fighting it in court and in the legislature.
But some members of the planning organization said they felt bound to vote for the transit plan because not doing so would impact dozens of other projects besides the toll lanes.
Frederick Becker, mayor of Mineral Springs, said the inability to veto one project shows there are flaws in the structure of the planning organization. The group must approve or reject the whole plan.
Becker, however, said he couldn’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” He said he wasn’t going to vote against the plan just because he opposes the toll lanes.
Brian Jenest, of Davidson, voted against the plan. He said the toll lanes project has torn the Lake Norman and Davidson area apart. Board members from Marvin, Pineville, Huntersville, Cornelius and Mecklenburg and Iredell counties also voted against the plan.
The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce came out against the plan in June, saying it would hinder, if not halt, economic development in the region. Since then, the chamber has opposed the project in the legislature.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation and Governor Pat McCrory have said canceling the state’s contract with I-77 Mobility Partners, which will manage the tolls lanes, would cost $100 million penalty fee.
NCDOT also said in August the toll lanes give consumers a choice: pay for a guaranteed rate of speed or continue to use the free general purpose lanes.
Norman Steinman, a Charlotte city planner, said adding more general purpose lanes without tolls would only increase capacity on the roadway for a limited time.