By VINCE WINEGARDNER
The NC DOT is in the final phases of approving High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes for I-77. These one or two HOT lanes will be built or converted from the currently free High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes between 5th Street in Charlotte and Exit 36 in Mooresville. A second phase envisions these HOT lanes extending all the way to Statesville. The lanes are intended to manage traffic and offer paying drivers a faster trip along I-77 between Mooresville and Charlotte. It would not address the congestion currently experienced in the general purpose lanes.
The cost to add HOT lane specific infrastructure (modify roadways, convert the existing HOV lanes and build additional lanes between Exit 23 and Exit 36) is estimated at over $540 million. The money for this would come from a Public Private Partnership (P3). That means the private enterprise would fund and build the $540 million project and then charge the users of the HOT lanes to recover their costs. Sound reasonable? Well, Atlanta is doing a similar HOT lane strategy and they are not making enough to cover the cost of converting HOV lanes – a much less expensive endeavor. The Georgia DOT lost money the first year and in order to recover the State’s investment has increased rates to over $6 one way at rush hour! Want to do a quick commute every work day at rush hour? You will need to budget for an additional $200 plus per month for that commute!
But wait: Don’t you already pay gas taxes, sales taxes, and other fees that are meant to cover the cost of roads and other “public” infrastructure? Yes, you do and many other transportation projects and residents in the state have benefited from your taxes. So now you are rewarded with not only paying those fees but now are being singled out as a Lake Norman resident to pay additional fees just to avoid NC DOT planned and government approved congestion on I-77. Double taxation and highway robbery!
Atlanta is experimenting with the HOT lane approach and it is not going well. The problem there was they waited too long to say “No”. We still have time. You can find more information on HOT lanes at www.WidenI77.org and at www.DavidsonWatchdogs.org.
Certainly our politicians will stand up and protect our interests as has been done by politicians in other areas that are avoiding this unfair $540 million “tax” to fix a $130 million problem ($130 million is what it would cost to add general purpose or HOV lanes and address the congestion between exit 23 and exit 36). Unfortunately, our local politicians have bought into the NC DOT’s “blackmail” argument that we either do it their way or wait another 20 years for additional lanes. Other areas are not waiting for their lanes or resorting to HOT lanes to add capacity. Why must the Lake Norman portion of I-77 (the number two priority in the state) wait? There are a lot of questions that need answering and the place to START is to STOP. Stop the NC DOT plan while the Lake Norman Transportation Commission (LNTC) convenes a task force to work with the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization (MUMPO), local, State and Federal officials to find $130 million to widen I-77 between Exits 23 and 36. (We could probably do it to Exit 33 and be fine).
There are other solutions to the I-77 congestion problem in Lake Norman and a citizens group has formed to educate our leaders to what those might be. The group – Widen-I77 – is holding an information session on Jan. 14 at 7pm at Cornelius Town Hall, 21445 Catawba Ave. I urge you to learn about this very detrimental change to Lake Norman roadways and the affect it will have on our communities. Once you have done your due diligence, contact your elected leaders and demand that they stand up for our community before highway robbery is part of our every day commute.
Vince Winegardner lives in Davidson and is a former member of the Davidson Planning Board.
Jan. 3, 2013, CorneliusNews.net, “Advisory board oppposes I-77 toll lanes, seeks alternatives.”