Politics & Government

After shutting public out, DOT says future I-77 toll lane meetings will be open

A week after holding a meeting behind closed doors, the N.C. Department of Transportation said Thursday that future meetings of a Interstate 77 working group will be open to the public and media.
A week after holding a meeting behind closed doors, the N.C. Department of Transportation said Thursday that future meetings of a Interstate 77 working group will be open to the public and media. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

A week after holding a meeting behind closed doors, the N.C. Department of Transportation said Thursday that future meetings of a Interstate 77 working group will be open to the public.

The state created the working group to explore ways to improve or kill a 50-year contract with a private company to build and manage toll lanes on I-77. The group held its first meeting last week at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, which did not allow the media to attend. The DOT and N.C. Turnpike Authority did not ask or require the chamber to allow the public inside.

The next meeting will be Feb. 14. The state hasn’t said where the group will meet.

The state’s open meetings law says that all state public bodies – even advisory committees – must hold open meetings. The toll-lane working group has roughly 20 members, made up of appointees from local governments and chambers of commerce.

The DOT said the next meeting will be open, with “a few extra seats and media will be able to sit inside,” said Nicole Meister of DOT. The meeting also will be live streamed over the web.

Cintra is building the toll lanes from uptown to Mooresville. The controversial project is expected to be finished at the end of this year.

Last year, a DOT consultant, Mercator Advisors, suggested the state consider six alternatives for the toll lane project. One option is what toll-lane opponents call “complete and delete,” in which Cintra would finish the project and the state would buy them out. Another option is to convert one of the toll lanes to a free lane.

N.C. Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said the working group and the DOT would consider all options.

“Nothing is off the table,” he said.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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