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2 NASCAR legends announce opposition to I-77 toll lanes

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Gordon (24) talks with Ray Evernham as adjustments are made to his car during practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 9, 2014.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Gordon (24) talks with Ray Evernham as adjustments are made to his car during practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 9, 2014. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

NASCAR legends Ray Evernham and Humpy Wheeler will go on record Wednesday night with their opposition to planned Interstate 77 toll lanes from Charlotte to Mooresville.

Greg Wallace, son of past NASCAR champion driver Rusty Wallace, plans to read statements from the pair at a meeting of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, which previously voted to recommend the lanes to the state Department of Transportation.

The meeting is at 6 p.m. at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.

Wheeler is past president and past general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Evernham is a former NASCAR crew chief and team owner. He is a racing analyst for NBC.

Various Lake Norman business leaders plan to attend the meeting to state their opposition to the $650 million project, including Mike Russell, chairman of the 1,000-plus member Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, and executives from Cornelius-based Aquesta Bank, toll lane opponent Vallee Bubak of Davidson said.

‘This project should not represent a separation of classes’

NASCAR legend Ray Evernham

Gov. Pat McCrory has said it’s too late to stop the project without substantial penalties, which have been estimated at around $100 million. He said if the local officials who approved the project seven years ago had asked him to stop it earlier, he might have been able to.

Now, he said, there simply isn’t enough money to cover the I-77 widening. Drivers will still be able to choose whether to use the toll lanes or the adjacent free lanes, he said.

In his statement, Evernham says he is “in 100-percent support of the business owners and citizens opposing the I-77 toll lanes project.”

How can we stand and say to those who cannot afford to use these lanes that their tax money will go towards this project and they will suffer through the construction delays, but because they can't afford to pay, they have less rights than those who can?” Evernham asks in his statement, which Bubak released to the media Wednesday morning.

“This project should not represent a separation of classes,” Evernham says. “It should represent American ingenuity working to find a way to make things fair and available to all people.

“It should also represent our leaders being responsible, accountable and doing the right thing.”

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

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