Cornelius-based group hires lawyers to fight I-77 toll lanes

A citizens group opposed to Interstate 77 toll lanes through the Lake Norman region retained legal counsel this week to help it fight the project.

Widen I-77 announced Wednesday that it’s studying whether to seek a court injunction against the planned lanes from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 36 in Mooresville.

The first phase of the group’s study will assess potential legal strategies and determine the most viable, Widen I-77 said.

“We have been able to take this crucial first step because scores of our neighbors cared enough about this issue and donated generously,” Widen I-77 founder and spokesman Kurt Naas said in a statement. “We thank them for their support.”

Due to the publicity surrounding the project, the law firm retained by Widen I-77 has requested anonymity as it studies options available to the nonprofit group, Naas said.

The state hired Spain-based contractor Cintra Infraestructuras to design, build, manage and operate the lanes. The contract is for 50 years.

Cintra’s financial closing on the $655 million project is expected to be complete by late November or early December, with right of way acquisition from January 2015 to June 2016, state transportation officials said.

Construction will start in July 2015, with the lanes opening by late 2018, officials said.

Two toll lanes in each direction will extend from the Brookshire Freeway to Exit 28 in Cornelius. One lane in each direction will be built from Cornelius to Exit 36.

Toll rate projections are being developed as part of the financial closing, said Jean Leier, spokeswoman for I-77 Mobility Partners, the limited liability corporation over the project.

Leier said the toll rate will be affordable. “It would not serve us for it to be cost-prohibitive,” she said.

Widen I-77 members will be on hand to answer questions at Thursday’s meeting of the Lake Norman Conservatives. The meeting is at 7 p.m. at Galway Hooker Restaurant & Pub, 17044 Kenton Drive, Cornelius.