Politics & Government

Sen. Jeff Tarte plans to introduce bill to stop I-77 tolling

Sen. Jeff Tarte
Sen. Jeff Tarte

A Mecklenburg County senator could introduce a bill as early as Thursday seeking to terminate the state’s just-signed contract with a private company to build and operate toll lanes on Interstate 77.

Republican Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius said Tuesday’s vote by Mecklenburg County commissioners helped fuel his decision. Commissioners voted for a resolution calling on the state to cut ties with I-77 Mobility Partners and ask Gov. Pat McCrory to look at alternative funding sources for widening I-77 with general-purpose lanes.

The towns of Davidson and Cornelius passed similar resolutions.

“Based upon the resolutions I have received I intend to fulfill the promise I made to my constituents and file a bill to (cancel) the Lake Norman section of the I-77 plan,” Tarte said in a statement.

Tarte said Wednesday he would add language to an existing bill that would prohibit the state from “participating in any way” in the construction of toll lanes between exits 23 and 36. He said that would essentially scuttle the project.

A bill would need approval by the Senate and the House before the legislature adjourns this summer. It is not clear when those votes would happen or whether Tarte’s effort would have enough support to pass.

If the contract were to be canceled – at an estimated cost to the state of $50 million to $100 million – drivers would be back at square one. Tarte said the state could look at other ways to fund improvements, if only for the most congested portions in north Mecklenburg.

“It would definitely delay when we can widen it,” he said.

McCrory has rejected including new free lanes in his $1.4 billion transportation bond proposal. He said last week it’s too late for the state to change direction. The projects pegged for improvement with the bonds were chosen based on a complicated formula, according to the governor’s office.

Asked the chances of his legislation or anything else stopping the toll project at this point, Tarte wasn’t optimistic. But he said the resolutions help.

“They’re about the equivalent of hitting double-zero on a roulette wheel,” he said. “But the odds are getting better.”

Morrill: 704-358-5059

Related stories from Charlotte Observer