From Jeffrey S. Merrifield of Davidson. Merrifield is co-c hair of the Public Policy Committee of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce:
Any reasonable person who has spent time on Interstate 77 between uptown and Mooresville during a rush hour would agree that this road needs to be widened. As one of those individuals, I have been fascinated with the ongoing debate regarding the opposition to the use of tolls to fund what is clearly a necessary change.
Twenty years ago, I served as a legislative assistant on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and worked on a number of highway bills. I remember quite distinctly getting a late night phone call telling me that the committee staff had found “additional money” and wanted to know how my senator might want to spend this $100 million dollar windfall in the highway bill that year. Those days are long gone.
Appropriately, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have agreed that it isn’t in our nation’s best interest for members of Congress to pick and choose their own pet projects and that efforts such as the widening of Interstate 77 should go through a thorough vetting at the state level to make sure they meet the needs of the state. We can quibble all we want about whether I-77 is placed high enough on North Carolina’s list, but the fact is that it will be many, many years before it will rise high enough to receive full state and federal funding
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Because the White House and Congress have been unwilling to raise the 18.4–cents-a-gallon gas tax, the U.S. faces a $100 billion gap between what’s needed for highway infrastructure and the fees necessary to fully finance the federal Highway Trust Fund. Given this change, getting more money for I-77 from the federal government just isn’t going to happen.
In my business, I travel widely and have spent many hours on toll roads that have been funded and built by the private sector. While I wish they were free, I appreciate the fact that they are convenient and provide a reduction in the overall traffic burden. While I don’t look forward to paying tolls, I welcome the opportunity to get to my home in Davidson a whole lot faster in the future.
Clearly, there is a need, and clearly there aren’t other “pots of money” available to tap into to fund the widening of I-77. A toll lane makes sense. Let’s move forward and get it built.