Cornelius anti-toll group names N.C. Rep. Robert Brawley legislator of year

Toll Free NC, the Cornelius-based group opposed to toll roads, named N.C. Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Mooresville, as its Legislator of the Year on Tuesday.

The group said Brawley “stands on principle and speaks the truth even when it’s against his party.”

“The private toll lanes on I-77 will end up costing my constituents over half a billion dollars, when we can widen the road where we need it for less than a fifth of that,” Brawley said in a statement accompanying the group’s announcement.

“The private company wants the general purpose lanes to be as congested as possible so drivers will have an incentive to pay the toll,” Brawley said. “At the end of the day, instead of solving our congestion problems, the toll lanes ensure congestion.”

The state announced last month that it will open Interstate 77 toll lanes from Charlotte to Mooresville a year later than planned to give companies more time to prepare bids on the $550 million project.

The N.C. Department of Transportation had hoped to open the lanes in 2017, but the four potential bidders said they needed to collect more information from bond rating agencies before submitting their bids. The project now is expected to open in 2018.

The winning bidder will finance, design, build and operate the lanes. The contract will be for 50 years so the contractor can recoup its investment, state officials have said.

While the private contractor will finance most of the project, the state plans to contribute $170 million.

The project calls for adding two toll lanes on northbound and southbound I-77 between Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte and Exit 28 in Cornelius. One toll lane would continue in each direction from Exit 28 to Exit 36.

Cars with at least three occupants would avoid a toll to use the lanes. Motorcycles and buses could also use the lanes for free.

State Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Cornelius, told the Observer recently that debate over the toll lanes is over and that the project will proceed.

But Brawley said he and other opponents will fight the project in the next legislative session.

“I am honored (by the award) and look forward to the opportunity to develop a real program to get our highways built,” he said.