When North Mecklenburg business leaders met Thursday to discuss their objections to planned toll lanes on Interstate 77, State Senator Jeff Tarte brought along a draft of a bill that would solve their problem.
The long-shot bill would use money from an upcoming bond package to expand I-77 north of uptown without toll revenue, breaking a contract signed May 20 between the N.C. Department of Transportation and a private developer to build express toll lanes.
But Tarte, a Republican, said he would not file the bill until the business leaders showed their support through petition signatures and calls to government representatives.
“We really need to communicate that it’s not just a small local group that doesn’t want it, it’s actually the region that doesn’t want this,” he said.
To reach that end, event organizers presented an “action plan” to guide the business leaders in mobilizing their opposition. The first hour of the meeting was devoted to a presentation outlining the negative consequences of the toll plan, including reduced productivity for workers who can’t afford to drive in the express lanes and a loss of regional commerce from businesses that rely on transportation, such as shipping companies.
One slide predicted a round-trip commute uptown would cost about $30 in 2035, halfway through the 50-year toll contract.
County commissioner Jim Puckett said he hoped the first stages of the advocacy process would take about a month. Because the contract has already been signed, its opponents’ time to act is limited.
The project will convert the existing carpool lanes on I-77 into toll lanes and add a new toll lane in each direction from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 28 in Cornelius. It will add one toll lane in each direction from Exit 28 to Mooresville Exit 36.
In an email sent before the meeting, the DOT said non-toll lanes would not be feasible on this section of I-77 for at least 10 years.
The same email announced that Puckett had told the DOT and I-77 Mobility Partners, the private company contracted to build the toll lanes, that the meeting was “not going to entertain a discussion from” either group.
In an interview, Puckett said he asked only I-77 Mobility Partners not to attend the meeting so business leaders’ voices could be heard.
“We’re not interested in that (Mobility Partners) contract,” he said. “And I really didn’t want to waste these people’s time hearing the same story again.”