OPINION: It’s time to back Widen I-77 and fight the tolls

It's time to back Widen I-77 and fight the tolls

It’s been an interesting news period these past few months. The I-77 toll battle has turned into a full-fledged citizen movement with the business community climbing on in earnest in May, thanks in large part to John “Mac” McAlpine V, a racing industry engineer in Cornelius. (Yes, his family is the McAlpine in the McAlpine Creek in Charlotte.)

I’ll be the first (well, maybe the second) to admit that I once thought tolls were the best way to widen I-77 any time soon in light of fiscal restraints in Raleigh. I no longer believe that. For one thing, more and more questions about our would-be partner are coming to light based on Google searches of news overseas. For another thing, the NCDOT has shown its true colors time after time, and they aren’t very flattering.

Meanwhile, the governor’s proposed $3 billion NC Connect bond deal shows that the state does in fact have borrowing capacity for infrastructure.

It’s not far fetched to say that some businesses will move away from Lake Norman if the toll plans move ahead. Anything delivery-related will suffer. Employees will have higher living expenses, less expendable cash. The toll plan seems perfect for those high-dollar consultants.

NCDOT community outreach director Warren Cooksey asked me for the margin of error after Business Today’s online poll showed 97 percent of the people who responded do not believe NCDOT  is “operating with transparency, integrity and in the best interest of our citizens.” I interpret his question as either darkly funny or dismissive of the people who pay his salary.

At the Cornelius Town Board meeting June 1, Cooksey discounted the town board’s vote. When asked about it, he said: “This doesn’t matter.” In a way, Cooksey was agreeing with what Commissioner Gilroy said: This is symbolic.

Well, it does matter. The Town Board voted unanimously to denounce the 50-year contract with Cintra. Meanwhile, politicians like Sen. Jeff Tarte and Rep. John Bradford have seen the light.

Despite public outcry and resolutions from six  county and muncipal boards, not to mention delays on Cintra’s part, the NCDOT plunged ahead with the contract signing. This, in a region known for declaring its independence from England before the rest of the 13 colonies did.

Sen. Jeff Tarte, who says he will work to defund the Cintra deal, says, “This is a long shot. Twelve people do not have credibility in Raleigh…it shows the region may not be worried. What you have to do is understand the power of numbers.”

RELATED: Sen. Jeff Tarte’s press release regarding the bill to defund the I-77 toll lane contract

“It can’t be just residents. What we have to do if we really want to do this, you need to push the governor, the secretary of transportation and all of the electeds into the corner. It has to be the businesses. We are the economic engine that drives the state. The businesses need to rally around it,” he said.

But the real hero here is Concord businessman Kurt Naas. He, and a loyal group of followers pushed an opposition effort up hills, through swamps and over stern objections of people who backed the tolls. To their credit, some of them stuck to their guns, too, even though the playing field changed, i.e., the state finances, a philosophical but not practical view of tolls and the governor’s bond proposal.

Naas and his crew stayed the course. When asked how it feels to be hailed after being demonized, he said: “I’m gratified that our leadership and the community has rallied around this. It’s getting late in the game so we need to work even harder to stop this terrible project from becoming a reality.”

He also said there is absolutely no reason to celebrate. Plenty of work lies ahead, and the effort to stop the tolls may fail.

“I wasn’t out there alone. We’ve had a dedicated group. We’re not consultants who parachute in and leave. We live here. We care about our community. This project is so egregious it would be criminal if we stopped fighting it,” Naas said.

Changes in the project “as well as the recent announcement of alternative methods of financing unavailable when first conceived, make the current toll project untenable for the economic future of our region,” said Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett.

“This is our last chance,” he said.

At Business Today, we agree with Puckett, and support the efforts of Naas, McAlpine, Tarte and Bradford.


7 Responses to “OPINION: It’s time to back Widen I-77 and fight the tolls”

  1. Real, accurate journalism about real people and businesses. This is a travesty thrust on Mecklenburg county with 5 of 9 state toll roads being paid for by our citizens. Why? Redistribution of wealth pure and simple. (With 145 million thrown in to sweeten the pot for local “projects” … 75 million of which is sketchily thrown back to the toll road project ultimately). Yes, Fundamentally changing our country for 50 years and beyond. Your children will be retired before this shackle is removed.

    These profits do not go to a Raleigh or Washington, but to a foreign company. Tell me again how this grows our economy and quality of life as a county, state, nation?

    Posted by Dan and Kathy Butterfield | June 18, 2015, 5:39 pm
  2. Proud of Business Today for taking a stand on this issue! This project will not only push businesses out of this area but it will also prevent new businesses from forming or moving here. It should also be noted that the full plan for these Cintra toll roads is to completely ring Charlotte in paralyzing traffic jams on the full length of I77 plus 485 and Independence as well. If allowed to continue it is going to strangle all business in this area.

    Linda Gillman
    That’s It! LLC
    Cornelius, NC

    Posted by newnormalsurvivor | June 18, 2015, 5:52 pm
  3. Thank you for speaking out on this issue that is detrimental to our area businesses and residents. We need those that are able, to join the bus trip to Raleigh on June 30th.

    Posted by Judy Cole | June 18, 2015, 6:08 pm
  4. Great Story! These are the facts as the “Citizens” of LKN seem them. Please do not let up on your investigative reporting! I applaud the quality of journalism and integrity despite the pressures from town and state gov./agencies.

    Posted by Daniel Harvell | June 18, 2015, 6:16 pm
  5. Thank you Dave for the recognition of efforts put forth to tell the truth about the travesty. The Widen group has been maligned as few others in recent history (certainly in this area-ever). “Now we are engaged in a great civil war… Testing whether this nation or any nation can long endure.” A prophetic soliloquy and non-the-less true as we are engaged in a war of words and a battle of wills that test the very existence of the region as we know it. Only through reporting of the facts – honestly and without malice can we survive. WE the people must prevail or surely we will die on the battle field of corruption and deceit.

    Posted by William C. Sykes | June 18, 2015, 6:43 pm
  6. The area has been robbed for years by NCDOT with most highway funding going to the East side of the state. We have suffered through this traffic mess on I-77 long enough and it’s plain to see that we do not matter to Raleigh. It is a travesty that we get so little in highway funding with the huge tax base generate in the Lake Norman area. They now feel that it is O.K to impose more taxes on us via a toll road for 50 years. Most of our elected officials sat on their hands and did NOTHING regarding this toll road until it was politically correct to oppose this. I for one will not forget this come election time: and yes that means you too Governor


    Posted by Jack Hubbard | June 18, 2015, 8:59 pm
  7. How many places have failed to keep up with traffic problems only to resort to making us pay for the road in taxes and again with tolls to private entities because of their lack of foresight.

    Posted by Joseph Ogershok | January 18, 2017, 4:15 pm

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