I-77 advisors express frustration over lack of progress

County Commissioner Pat Cotham, left, with Mac McAlpine, organizer of the I-77 Call to Action

Feb. 25. By Dave Vieser. Frustrated members of the I-77 Local Advisory Group voiced their concerns loud and clear at the conclusion of their 90 minute meeting with the NCDOT: “Tell us where the obstacles are that are preventing the I 77 toll lane contract from being canceled.”

The meeting was billed as an update on the toll lane construction status and while the committee members appreciated the information, more was clearly expected. “I feel like we are hearing the same thing we heard at our last meeting in August” said Kurt Naas, a Cornelius commissioner. “We need to know specifically the quickest, most effective way to cancel this contract.”

Former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett said the I-77 fiasco is an economic development issue. “We also need to invite the Secretary of Commerce Anthony Copeland to these meetings, because this project, and the impact it could have on our region, is not just a transportation project, it’s a potential economic disaster wrapped around a transportation project,” he said.

Puckett and other committee members are especially concerned that the toll lanes will prove to be an impediment to trucks attempting to transport commerce to or through the area, as well as the impact it will have on passenger traffic.

Last year, there was an ill-fated attempt to pass legislation in Raleigh which would provide a funding mechanism to cover the costs of canceling the CINTRA contract. The need to do something about the toll lane contract has brought elected officials from both sides of the aisle together on the 77 committee.

“There have been mistakes made by Democrats and Republicans,” said County Commissioner Pat Cotham, a Democrat, “and it’s our residents who are stuck in the middle.” She has brought up the fact that lighting problems contributed to accidents in the construction zone.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper commissioned a fresh study by Mercator Advisors on the I-77 toll lane project and committee members noted that the window of time for action was closing fast. “Those seeking to file to seek re-election, such as the Governor, must file in early December.” Cotham said. “Maybe there are some possible legislative candidates in this room?”

During the earlier portion of the meeting:

  • NCDOT Secretary Trogdon called in and told the committee members to “keep [the] engagement level up.” He was ill and unable to attend in person.
  • NCDOT studies indicate that the accident rate in the I-77 construction zone increased by 69 percent when compared with the previous 3-year average for the same stretch of interstate. This places the rate in the middle of previous NCDOT accident rate increase ratios on construction projects, which ranged from a low of 57 percent to a high of 98 percent.
  • The section of the toll lanes from I-485 to Exit 36 should be open within two months, or by the end of April. However the Hambright Road exit will open later in the summer.

The meeting was held at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.


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