By DAVID BORAKS
A grass-roots campaign against plans for High Occupancy Toll lanes on I-77 north of Charlotte is gaining momentum, with a vote last week by the Iredell County Board of Commissioners to reject the idea. The citizens group Widen I-77 is celebrating that vote, and plans another strategy session Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Cornelius commissioners are also scheduled to discuss the issue at their meeting Tuesday night.
Tuesday night’s meeting of Widen I-77 begins at 7:30pm at Cornelius Town Hall, 21445 Catawba Ave., Cornelius.
Cornelius commissioners will meet at 7pm, also at Town Hall will continue a discussion of the toll plans and could vote on a resolution calling on officials to look at alternatives. (See the agenda item here.)
Widen I-77 wants elected leaders to appoint a task force to explore alternative funding that will allow I-77 to be widened with general purpose lanes, instead of toll lanes. Members also want the state DOT to postpone plans to award contracts this summer to begin work on the planned HOT lanes project.
At a meeting Monday, Jan. 14, Widen I-77 leaders called for a halt in the toll-lane plans.
State and local officials have proposed High Occupancy Toll lanes, or HOT lanes, to help pay for the widening of I-77 north of Charlotte. The state lacks the funding to widen the badly congested highway immediately – the road widening isn’t in the state plans for decades. State officials say charging tolls would help pay for the work as much as 20 years sooner than planned, and would encourage carpooling. HOT lanes would be free for cars with multiple passengers, but other drivers could use the lanes by paying a fee.
The project calls for two HOT lanes in each direction from the Brookshire Freeway/I-277 in Charlotte to Exit 28/Catawba Avenue in Cornelius. One HOT lane in each direction would be built from Exit 28 to Exit 36/NC 150 in Mooresville. Officials say two extra lanes aren’t possible on the northern section because of the narrow causeways over Lake Norman in Cornelius and Davidson.
IREDELL BOARD OPPOSES TOLLS
Iredell commissioners last week unanimously condemned the idea of using tolls to help pay for the I-77 widening. At their meeting Tuesday, Jan. 15, the board voted to approve a list of projects in the state’s 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan, but they amended item No. 20, the HOT lanes project, to call for general purpose lanes, instead of toll lanes.
It was a symbolic vote, but one that throws the Iredell board’s weight behind the effort by Widen I-77 to get elected officials to look at alternatives.
Iredell Commissioner Renee Griffith objected to the I-77 HOT lanes plan, saying it was too expensive, and noting that there would be no maximum on tolls that could be charged. “We’re just putting a higher tax on the resents of southern Iredell County,” she said
Commisioner Ken Robertson said he opposes HOT lanes “on the grounds of fairness.” He said other parts of the state and even the Charlotte area have had interstate highways widened without tolls, and the same should go for Iredell County and the area north of Charlotte.
“Ever since I’ve lived here, I’ve paid taxes to build roads close to Raleigh, near Raleigh, around Fayetteville, through some of the two-horse towns that were in the districts of powerful representatives who had lots of seniority in the General Assembly and there’s not a toll on a single one of them,” he said. “And when I finally want to get an extra lane on an interstate highway that is a major access point into Charlotte that somehow now I’ve gotta pay a toll for it.”
“If they’ll put up some toll booths in Raleigh and around Greensboro and around Fayetteville, then OK, I’ll put up a toll booth in Iredell County. But I don’t want to be the only one (with tolls) just because we were last,” Mr. Robertson said.
The board agreed to amend Item 20 in the Long Range Transportation Plan calling for general purpose lanes instead of toll lanes, and the resolution passed unanimously.
See the website of Widen I-77 for more information, WidenI-77.org