Lake Norman Chamber to declare position on I-77 toll lanes

Lake Norman business leaders will decide Monday on whether they’ll change their outlook on the controversial $650 million project to add toll lanes in northern Mecklenburg County now that a state lawmaker has promised to push legislation stripping its funding.

It’s possible the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce will come out favoring Sen. Jeff Tarte’s plan to introduce a bill that eliminates funding for the project in his district. Galvanizing the business community is “critical...in garnering support in the N.C. Senate,” Tarte said in a statement last week.

But it’s also likely the chamber will take a stance that mirrors a vote last week by Mecklenburg County commissioners who approved a resolution asking Gov. Pat McCrory to sever ties with the project’s developer and find alternative ways to fund widening I-77.

Whatever they decide might hold sway on how strongly Tarte pushes the bill: “Getting the resolutions from the various business groups and towns is absolutely imperative to taking the final step to filing that bill or not,” he said.

The Lake Norman chamber’s position on the toll lanes has been the same for several years: It supports the widening of I-77 through “whatever means possible” if the process doesn’t create an undue economic burden on citizens and businesses, Chamber President William Russell said.

But news about a 50-year clause in the state’s contract with developers has evoked fury among citizens, activists and lawmakers who oppose the tolls.

“The sentiment amongst business owners, employees, citizens in Lake Norman...has greatly changed as they’ve become more and more aware of elements of the contract,” Russell said. “It’s just a very unsettling thing for the people living here and the people working here.”

In May, the chamber had a “spirited discussion” about its stance on the project and sent a poll to its 1,000 members, he said. Last week, Russell presented the results to the chamber’s executive committee, who plan to meet with the 21-member board of directors on Monday. The board will vote and issue a statement Tuesday on where it stands on the tolls.

“I think there will be at least some modification,” Russell said. “How far we go, I have no idea. Maybe we’ll stay exactly where we are.”