O-Pinion

Chamber video hits the web, urging against delay in I-77 toll project

Screenshot from the Chamber video.
Screenshot from the Chamber video.

With Lake Norman-area residents fuming over news of a potential 50-year block on new general purpose Interstate 77 lanes in their region, the Charlotte Chamber has released a new video to help keep the state’s controversial toll-lane project on track.

The chamber released a video Thursday in which Natalie English, its senior vice president for public policy, urged the public (and public officials) to hold the line for the state Department of Transportation’s plan to enter a public-private partnership to build new toll lanes between uptown Charlotte and Mooresville.

The video emerged on the same day news surfaced that Mecklenburg commissioners could follow the lead of the Cornelius Town Board and ask the state for a 90-day delay in signing the contract with I-77 Mobility Partners. Cornelius officials were upset by news of a non-compete clause in the 50-year contract that would require the state to pay the private developer for loss of business if the state built new free lanes on I-77 during that period.

English says in the video that the chamber wants to see construction start as planned this summer, despite the “confusion” and “very emotional response” the toll project has sparked. She reiterated that the toll lanes aren’t mandatory, but rather add another option for residents to use on one of the state’s most congested stretches of highway.

“There are lots of choices. That’s the point of all this,” she said. “We should not delay this project.”

The toll lane proposal has enraged residents, many of whom feel the state should just widen the road with general purpose lanes. Commenters – presumably from the Lake Norman area – have already gone on YouTube, where the video lives, to slam it.

“What a crock,” one said.

“As a resident and business owner of Mecklenburg you do not share my viewpoint,” added another.

“So tell us Natalie, where do you live??” yet another asked. “Seriously, the chamber is nothing but a mouthpiece for big business.”

The non-compete clause, previously unknown to many of the toll project’s opponents, has added a dramatic 11th-hour twist to the countdown to the consummation of funding for the project – called the financial close – which must be confirmed by N.C. DOT by May 27.

Will it still happen? Stay tuned...

--Eric Frazier

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