A bipartisan group of Mecklenburg County lawmakers Thursday asked the Charlotte City Council to join the push to cancel the controversial contract to build toll lanes on Interstate 77.
Eight Mecklenburg legislators and a senator who represents neighboring Iredell County asked Mayor Jennifer Roberts and the City Council to add their voices to those calling for the state to cancel its contract with Spanish developer Cintra.
Specifically, they asked the council to direct its delegate to the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization to support cancellation of 923-page contract. Charlotte’s lone delegate, council member Vi Lyles, controls 31 of the group’s weighted 68 votes.
Last year Gov. Pat McCrory refused appeals to cancel the project. Instead he asked CRPTO to vote again. It’s scheduled to do that Jan. 20.
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“Our position would be that the governor has asked for CRPTO to weigh in, and certainly Charlotte has the lion’s share of the vote,” Republican Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville said Thursday. “Then it’s up to the governor to decide whether he would listen to the local community.”
Charlotte City Council is scheduled to vote Monday whether to direct Lyles to reverse her support of the optional toll lane project. This week a council committee voted 3-2 to continue with the planned toll lanes.
Council members have said this week they expect Monday’s vote to be close, possibly decided by one vote either for or against the I-77 toll lanes.
Ned Curran, a Charlotte businessman and chairman of the North Carolina transportation board, told council members there would be “enormous” consequences if the city voted against the I-77 toll lanes, even if it tried to keep other projects toll projects.
Saying the city has been “dealt an unacceptable hand by the state,” Roberts alluded to the cancellation fee, estimated at $100 million or more.
“This contract will place a tremendous cost on Charlotte to withdraw from the deal at this late date,” she said in a statement Thursday. “We need to do what is in the best financial interests of Charlotte families, but we must hold those responsible accountable and ensure that a deal like this is never hung around the necks of North Carolina families again.”
Mecklenburg commissioners voted 8-1 Tuesday to direct its CRPTO delegate to support cancellation of the Cintra contract.
On Thursday, Democratic Sens. Jeff Jackson and Joyce Waddell joined Democratic Reps. Tricia Cotham, Carla Cunningham and Beverly Earle, Republican Sens. David Curtis and Jeff Tarte and GOP Reps. John Bradford III and Jeter in writing Roberts and the City Council.
In November the four Republicans wrote McCrory warning that if the toll project went forward, “communities and businesses will suffer irreparable harm.” That’s when the governor put it back in the hands of CRPTO.
In their letter, the lawmakers said they’ve been assured by legislative attorneys that CRPTO could vote on the I-77 toll project without impacting other local projects, including other proposed toll lanes.
Widen I-77, a group that went to court to stop the toll lanes, has asked a judge to put their suit on hold in hopes a political solution can be reached. The group and its attorney will be at the Mecklenburg courthouse at 10 a.m. Friday for a hearing before Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III.