High heat didn’t stop residents of northern Mecklenburg County from staging a rally in opposition of the I-77 toll lanes construction project. Dozens of people gathered on the Exit 28 bridge that runs over the interstate Thursday afternoon.
Several people held signs with messages like ‘Don’t Toll Me Bro’ and ‘Tolls R Bad 4 Business’.
The group had a clear message. “Cancel the tolls! Cancel the tolls!” chanted Huntersville resident Stephanie McPherson in an interview with WBTV.
For years residents have been calling for the contract’s cancellation, worried that toll lanes won’t alleviate congestion and won’t benefit many drivers who frequent the interstate.
“This toll lane is gonna be a disaster,” resident Jayne Eve of Cornelius told WBTV.
Just weeks ago, North Carolina Secretary of Transportation Jim Trogdon announced that the NCDOT supported a plan that would turn one of the two toll lanes under construction into a general purpose lane.
Some people at Thursday’s rally said they could settle for that plan.
“Yeah if we get one free lane, I would accept a toll lane to Charlotte,” said Huntersville resident Mark Shaw.
Some protesters, including Rep. John Bradford, wanted to speak directly to Governor Roy Cooper Thursday. Bradford claimed that Cooper was in the area for an event, but didn’t bother to stop by the rally.
“He’s here tonight two miles away from this bridge, not standing with us to honor his campaign promise to cancel the tolls, he’s here campaigning for party politics,” said Bradford.
Jamal Little, a spokesperson for the governor’s office sent WBTV the following statement in response to Thursday’s rally.
“Governor Cooper and DOT have been clear that the ultimate goal is for the state of North Carolina to operate this project, but unfortunately, Republican legislators, including Senator Tarte and Representative Bradford, added obstacles that protect the contract. After working with members of the community, DOT is negotiating with Cintra to address immediate concerns like capping the tolls and hardening the shoulders so people can have more non-tolled options. Senator Tarte’s proposal didn’t pass the legislature and could potentially defund every other transportation project in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties.”
Jamal Little | Governor’s Office Spokesman
According to a state auditor it would cost more than $200 million to completely cancel the contract. Any recommendations as to what should change about the project have to pass the state’s scoring criteria that determines what projects get funded.