Politics & Government

Is I-77 toll lane project constitutional? Appeals court makes its ruling

The state Court of Appeals dealt another blow to opponents of the Interstate 77 toll lanes in northern Mecklenburg County, upholding a ruling that the project is constitutional.
The state Court of Appeals dealt another blow to opponents of the Interstate 77 toll lanes in northern Mecklenburg County, upholding a ruling that the project is constitutional. Observer File Photo

The state Court of Appeals dealt another blow to opponents of the Interstate 77 toll lanes in northern Mecklenburg County, upholding a ruling that the project is constitutional.

The unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel of the state’s second-highest court was released Tuesday. It backs the order issued last year by Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith, who ruled that the state highway department was within its legal rights to turn over the authority to create a toll lane to a private developer, I-77 Mobility Partners.

The attorney for opponents of the controversial project had argued that I-77 Mobility has been given the power under a 2014 agreement with the state to set tolls as high as it wanted.

Attorneys for NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners said it would never make sense for the developer to set rates so high, in part because the state has the ability to cancel the contract.

In its new opinion, the appeals court panel ruled, in part, that tolls are not a tax and that “there are adequate guiding standards and procedural safeguards in place to regulate the exercise of authority for this project.”

Construction has started on the toll lanes from uptown to Mooresville. Motorists will be able to pay to use the lanes or stay in the existing general purpose lanes, which will remain free.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS

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