Mark Washburn

A great idea? This is how we do it up North

By Mark Washburn

Rush hour Traffic clog on I-77 at Exit 23 in Huntersville.
Rush hour Traffic clog on I-77 at Exit 23 in Huntersville.

For those unclear on the recent events about the I-77 toll project, here is everything you need to know in an easy-to-read Q and A format.

Q. They did what?

Despite growing opposition from Lake Norman motorists and the hamlets in which they reside, the state has closed a deal with a Spanish firm to build toll lanes from Charlotte to Mooresville.

Q. Why can’t they just build free lanes?

That would cost money the state says it won’t have until after the next Zombie Apocalypse. There are greater needs for roads, and that’s where the money will go from your fuel taxes, one of the highest in the nation.

Q. How could there be greater needs than I-77 in north Mecklenburg? It’s jammed every day, even on weekends.

You only know that because you live there. People over in Raleigh know better.

Q. Isn’t Lake Norman one of the fastest-growing areas in the Southeast? Why wouldn’t they want to address congestion up there?

Lake Norman is widely known as the habitat for race car drivers, wealthy industrialists and Donald Trump’s new golf course. If you can’t gouge a toll out of rich Normanites, how can you fleece drivers other places the state wants to build toll roads.

Q. Tolls are a northern thing. We don’t go for that down here.

According to the latest census, half of New Jersey and most of Buffalo now lives here. Wait for the next snow panic – they’ll self-identify to you.

Q. What if I don’t want to pay?

You won’t have to. You can sit in your car frowning and pounding on the steering wheel like you do now and grow old as Lexus after Mercedes roars by in the toll lane.

Q. Wait. You can go fast in the toll lane?

Sure. Under the contract, the Spanish operator will keep traffic moving at 45 mph or more. They’ll do this by manipulating the cost, known as “dynamic pricing.” This is Spanish corporate-speak for “squeezing the maximum juice out of foolish Americans.”

Q. So they think this will reduce tie-ups?

No, no, no, no. Nothing of the sort. Please pay attention. For the toll lanes to make gobs of cash for the foreign operator, regular traffic must be clogged. To keep the toll lanes relatively fluid, the price must be one that only a few recent winners of the N.C. Education Lottery can afford.

Q. Like how much?

Wrong question! They won’t say. Who can predict how desperate you’ll get to buy your way out of a parking lot in the next 50 years.

Q. What do you mean 50 years? It goes that long? That’d be like building something in 1965 and still using it today.

Quit being reasonable. They need to gouge you for 50 years to recoup their investment. It takes a lot of money to set up a traffic extortion scheme of this magnitude.

Q. What if the state were to find, like, an extra $400 million sitting around that it didn’t expect to have. Would it be able to build free lanes?

Not now. If it builds free lanes, it has to pay its foreign partner for whatever business is lost in the toll lanes. It’s much more efficient to let the contractor just prey on the motoring public like a flock of drooling buzzards.

Q. Is there no other solution?

Yes. Before the 50 years are up, we’ll all probably be in flying cars like the Jetsons. Unless, of course, our overseers in Raleigh can figure out a way to fix that too.

Washburn: 704-358-5007;

Twitter: @WashburnChObs.