Anti-toll group to seek halt to I-77 project

Members of a group that opposes proposed toll lanes on Interstate 77 north of Charlotte plan to file a legal complaint Tuesday seeking to stop the project.

Widen I-77’s request for a preliminary injunction could lead to a trial against the N.C. Department of Transportation and I-77 Mobility Partners, a subsidiary of the project’s contractors, said Vince Winegardner, spokesman for the citizens group.

The filing would come two days before Cintra, the project’s contractor, has to secure funding for the $655 million project, said Kurt Naas, a member of Widen I-77.

Naas declined to provide specifics about the complaint.

He said he expects Cintra will miss the funding deadline but feared that N.C. DOT would provide the contractors with an extension.

“More extension, more delays invalidate justification for having toll lanes in the first place,” Naas said.

Last year, N.C. DOT chose Cintra, a Spanish infrastructure company, to build the state’s first “managed lanes” project, which will combine toll and high-occupancy lanes.

The project will add two toll lanes northbound and southbound on I-77 from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 28 in Cornelius. It will add one toll lane from Exit 28 to Exit 36.

Cintra will pay most of the costs and, for 50 years, will maintain and operate the lanes while collecting most of the toll revenue. Toll amounts have not been determined.

State officials have said North Carolina couldn’t afford to widen the road itself, and toll lanes are the best way to expand the road quickly.

“We’ve been told since 2010 that we’ve had to resort to toll lanes because we couldn’t get (general purpose lanes) now,” Naas said. “Well, it’s 2015.”

North Carolina has studied traffic congestion north of Charlotte for years. In 2007, the state identified the I-77 corridor as a high priority road for improvement.

Transportation officials began exploring the idea of toll lanes in 2012. Almost immediately, local residents fought back. They cited revenue estimates and memorandums sent to state lawmakers saying a one-way commute from Mooresville to Charlotte could cost $9. A return trip could cost more than $11.

The state has disputed those projections.

Winegardner said that a potential legal expenses could cost the group $50,000 to $70,000.

“Our hope is that the injunction will show this privatization of our public infrastructure and roads is an unconstitutional way to proceed,” Winegardner said.