Politics & Government

Spurred by election, Rep. Charles Jeter calls for toll road ‘summit’

Charlotte

Last week’s elections in north Mecklenburg County have renewed efforts to stop the planned construction of toll lanes on Interstate 77.

Rep. Charles Jeter, a Huntersville Republican, on Monday called for a “summit” of Mecklenburg County and regional leaders to discuss the planned tolls “within 10 business days.”

“There have been a lot of media communications for the past year … so I think it’s time we all sit down at the same table for a real discussion with real solutions,” he said.

He acknowledged the Nov. 3 elections played a big role.

A week ago, businessman John Aneralla ousted Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain with the support of anti-toll voters. Two commissioners opposed by toll opponents also lost in an election some called a referendum on the I-77 project.

“It had a tremendous impact and I’d be dishonest if I said it didn’t,” he said. “I think (voters) spoke loud and clear on Tuesday.”

Jeter said he called for the I-77 meeting “in direct consultation with Gov. Pat McCrory.” A McCrory spokesman could not be reached.

Jeter isn’t the only lawmaker trying to tackle the issue. GOP Sen. Jeff Tarte, who also represents the area, is expected to announce his own I-77 plan later this week.

The state has signed a 50-year contract with Spain-based Cintra to design, build and operate the lanes. The project calls for two toll lanes between the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte and Exit 28 in Cornelius. One toll lane would continue in each direction from Exit 28 to Exit 36.

The contract could effectively block the state from building additional free lanes on the road for 50 years. The N.C. Department of Transportation disputes that and says under some circumstances it can add a general purpose lane.

Critics have tried to stop the project before. But they say the election helps them flex their muscles.

“I think elected officials are worried about their jobs,” said Mac McAlpine, a founder of I-77 Business Plan, a group of business leaders who oppose the tolls.

“It really comes down to accountability … Before the election it was sort of billed that (being) anti-toll was a fringe activity. But the election proved that actually a majority of people are interested in the issue.”

At least one would-be opponent in House District 92 already is taking Jeter to task over the issue.

Democrat Chaz Beasley said in a statement that he’s been a consistent opponent of the toll project.

“I’m glad Jeter finally agrees with what we’ve been saying from the start,” he said. “The tolls on I-77 are bad for our community.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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