From Bill Russell, CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, in response to “Time to face some I-77 toll realities” (Sept. 3 Forum):
Recently, Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, reiterated the Charlotte Chamber’s support for the private I-77 toll lanes project at Lake Norman. I consider Bob and the Charlotte Chamber to be great partners and strong business allies. However, in this case, the Charlotte Chamber’s support is shortsighted. Below are a few points to consider:
▪ The project prohibits direct ingress and egress to all current exits along I-77 from exit 30 to exit 23, making the toll lanes functionally useless for residents and businesses in the area.
▪ Our elected and business leaders were given the option of managed lanes (which later evolved into a P3 partnership) or no widening for 20-25 years. In hindsight, many in the business community believe we were better off with nothing at all.
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▪ Canceling the contract saves $165 million on day one, up to $75 million over six years and potentially $350 million if the private company defaults, which we feel is very possible.
▪ Trucks will use the existing general purpose lanes, as they will be prohibited from using the toll lanes. As there are only two lanes each way over Lake Norman, commerce gets increasingly restrained and our region, including Charlotte, becomes less competitive.
▪ The contract effectively prohibits any improvements on I-77 for the next 50 years, unless those improvements benefit the toll lanes. Thus, congestion cannot get better; it will only get worse.
The only thing “silly” is to continue with a 50-year contract for a road project that discourages economic development, ignores 30 years of land-use planning and will likely become the poster child for P3 failures for years to come.
It was difficult for our 1,000-business-member Chamber of Commerce to admit that our initial support of the project was a mistake. That said, our leadership is realizing our mistakes and correcting them. Bob is right when he states that opposition is growing. Elected officials, CEOs, business owners, and citizens are becoming more aware each day of how this project fails not only for those who work and live here today, but also for the generations who will inherit this failure over the next five decades.