Protests planned for Exit 28 bridge. Commissioner expects ‘public outcry and revolt’

Protests planned for Exit 28 bridge. Gilroy expects 'public outcry and revolt'
April 27. It looks like a group of anti-toll activists will converge near the Exit 28 bridgeFriday evening to protest plans for tolls as a way to widen I-77 between Lake Norman and Charlotte. It is apparently being organized by people not directly associated with Widen I-77, but leaders of the well-known anti-toll group will participate.

Vallee Bubak, a leader of Widen I-77 on Facebook said: “We are planning for this Friday from 4:30-8 pm. Convening at Exit 28. If we have enough people then we can go to the other exits.” Widen I-77 has its own website,, as well as a Facebook page with more than 5,400 “likes,” among them such people as Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins and Cornelius Commissioner Jim Duke.

Of course, some people who “like” the Widen I-77 Facebook page may have done so to keep tabs on the group. It has been a thorn in the side of elected officials who have supported a public-private partnership that would be responsible for tolls and widening this stretch of I-77.

No one is exactly sure of public opinion around the tolls, but it may have shifted strongly negative. Another Facebook group, Exit 28 Ridiculousness, is growing at rapid rate. The site has about 2,340 followers, up from less than 2,200 last week. It seems to be morphing from a site that mostly mocked the new bridge design at Exit 28 to a more politically active group with a focus on wider traffic issues, including I-77 and tolls.

Cornelius Town Commissioner Dave Gilroy said the tolls “will create a public outcry and revolt the likes of which we have never seen in North Meck before.”

NC Sen. Jeff Tarte, the former mayor of Cornelius, has softened his support of toll lanes, especially since Gov. Pat  McCrory suggested making $3 billion in bond financing available for other parts of the state.

The governor’s new plan calls for I-40 to be widened between Davie and Forsyth counties with new bond monies.

“I will vote against the governor’s plan unless he removes the plan to toll I-77,” Tarte said. “We were told the state has no capacity to borrow money for interstate expansion, and yet the governor’s new transportation plan calls for borrowing nearly $3 billion. If we now have the debt financing capacity we should expand I77 with general purpose lanes using bond funds.”

Because of the complexity of the issue—at one time the state insisted there was no money for literally hundreds of projects—Tarte couched his statement this way: “This is my position based on my current understanding of the I-77 and I-40 components of the plan. I have not seen the entire plan or discussed the plan with anyone in the executive branch. I will need to understand the entire scope of work and the interdependencies, so I reserve final judgement until I complete doing all my homework.”

It also looks like there is no stopping the toll plan in the courts. “I do not think the courts will stop it. I could be wrong,” Tarte said. Mayor Chuck Travis, who has supported the toll plan as the only way to get new lanes anytime soon, said the financial close is only two or three weeks away.

Cornelius Commissioner Gilroy said it is indeed “unlikely that anything can help at this point,” given the bureaucracy’s momentum.

“This issue will continue to annoy and grind on our citizens’ nerves for the next three years, but the next real blow up will occur once the lanes open and our citizens start paying to get out of the general purpose lanes which will be even more clogged up than today,” Gilroy said.

Whether public protests will sway more politicians in Gilroy’s direction is anybody’s guess.

“We are moving forward with Cintra,” said Mayor Travis. “Our best hope is funding for Exit 27 [a new Cornelius exit between Catawba Avenue and Hwy. 73/Sam Furr road] and new economic opportunities for North Mecklenburg.”

More developments around I-77 Public-private finance plan.

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