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Charlotte Chamber just doesn’t get it on I-77 tolls

Work on the Interstate 77 toll lanes north of Charlotte.
Work on the Interstate 77 toll lanes north of Charlotte. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

In response to “The Blue Line is complete. Now what about all our other transportation needs?” (March 1 op-ed from Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan):

Once again the Charlotte Chamber fails to understand the negative impact private toll lanes will have on our region’s economy and quality of life.

The I-77 toll lanes, set to open later this year or early next, will be operated by a private company under an exclusive, 50-year contract. Toll rates will vary based on congestion: the higher the congestion, the higher the toll. So in order to maximize revenue, the private company wants the general purpose lanes to remain as congested as possible.

And make no mistake, I-77 is terribly congested. A recent consultant’s report proved what Lake Normanites already know: the 14-mile stretch through Lake Norman is the most congested corridor in the entire state of North Carolina.

Private toll lanes, with their congestion pricing algorithms, are designed to ensure congestion, not alleviate it. In fact, the NCDOT’s lawyers even admitted in court the toll lanes will not reduce congestion. Instead of “adding needed capacity” like the Charlotte Chamber wants you to believe, these private toll lanes will auction it off to the highest bidder … and leave the vast majority of drivers idling in ever-worsening traffic.

Despite overwhelming analysis and evidence to the contrary, the Charlotte Chamber continues to insist toll lanes are key to solving our region’s transportation woes. The position defies logic and common sense.

Perhaps, like many Charlotteans, Chamber officials believe I-77 is little more than a conveyor dumping Lake Norman commuters into uptown, with no effect otherwise on Charlotte.

Reality is quite different.

I-77 is a vital commercial artery connecting Charlotte to the industrial Midwest. In fact, a 2013 study by the John Locke Foundation showed I-77 has the highest truck traffic density of any interstate in North Carolina. With the multi-modal facility opening at Charlotte-Douglas airport, I-77 truck traffic is projected to increase faster than any other interstate.

Unfortunately the toll contract’s non-compete clause makes it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to widen I-77 with anything but more toll lanes for the next 50 years.

Rather than helping our region’s economy, private tolling will choke it … for 50 years.

As Charlotte’s leading business advocate, the Charlotte Chamber should be promoting transportation projects that improve our economy instead of strangling it.

Private toll lanes are not the answer to Charlotte’s transportation needs. The Charlotte Chamber should have figured this out long ago.

The rest of the region already has.

Naas is a commissioner for the Town of Cornelius. He serves on the Citizens I-77 Advisory Committee.

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