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Mayor Travis issues statement on meeting with Sen. Berger

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June 11. In a prepared statement, Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis defended his visit to Sen. Philip Berger, along with Davidson Mayor John Woods, in support of the controversial Public Private Partnership that is building toll lanes on I-77 between Charlotte and Lake Norman. Here are his comments:

“On Wednesday, June 8th, 2016, at 5:15pm, I attended a meeting with the President Pro Tempore of the NC Senate, Senator Phil Berger along with his invited guest, Senators Brock, Curtis, Harrington, Rabon and Tarte.  Mayor John Woods of Davidson attended at my request. Mayor Woods and I were representing our own personal opinions.

The purpose of the meeting was to share the Executive Summary that Mayor Woods and I wrote after our trip to the Dallas / Ft. Worth, Texas area.  To our knowledge, we are the only local officials to invest our own money and time to make this trip – where we toured two projects constructed and maintained by Cintra, the Public / Private Partner under contract with NCDOT, and attended multiple meetings with state and local and business leaders where these projects have been constructed.

The Texas Trip Executive Summary

Copies were provided for distribution, with two points being brought to the Senator’s attention.  First, during our discussion with the Dallas Fort Worth Chamber of  Commerce, “The Chamber leadership was astounded to learn that businesses in our community would object to managed lanes”, and “The Chamber also predicted that large employers exploring our market would turn away if the region didn’t offer transportation reliability to meet travel time expectations.  They emphasized that they compete with the Charlotte region and this is a clear disadvantage to even retaining our existing large employers.” A representative of the Ross Perot Company who participated in these meetings reinforced this statement.  As Mayor, I take this issue very seriously.  Our Town and State cannot jeopardize our existing businesses / jobs.  We have to stay competitive for future opportunities and we need as many funding mechanisms as possible to pay for transportation infrastructure in a state where dollars can’t keep up with the demand.  If we cancel the contract, we will significantly damage the ability to pursue Public / Private opportunities.

What is at Risk if the Cintra Contract is Canceled?

I shared information regarding the explosive growth of our Town in population – from 3000 residents to more than 28,500 in the past 25 years with expected growth to continue to +35,000. Our infrastructure to handle this type of growth is woefully behind. Cornelius has been approved for $120 M worth of projects due primarily to a significant share of the Bonus Allocation dollars associated with the contract.  The projects that are committed to start within the next 5 years include the widening of West Catawba Avenue, improvements to Highway 21 and 115, improved interchanges at Catawba Avenue at Highway 21 as well as Torrence Chapel Road, Northcross Road extension to Westmoreland Road, as well as others.  All of these improvements will provide better North / South connectivity and provide alternate options for having to depend on I-77 for local travel like we are currently doing.  These projects will not proceed if the contract is canceled and their future will be unknown.

In addition, I expressed concern regarding our precious Right of Way along I-77 due to the limitations of the geographic constraints caused by the shoreline of Lake Norman.  If general purpose lanes are constructed, and our ROW is used for those purposes, we lose the ability to manage our future without the ability to relieve congestion like the managed lanes concept will provide.  Our portion of the interstate will be no better off than the current situation on I-77 from Brookshire Freeway to the SC line where the option on Friday afternoon is, “which lane do you want to sit in traffic on”.

Mayor Woods expressed potential concern regarding the impact on the Strategic Transportation Investments program if the contract is canceled and disruption to the “planned projects” within our own Metropolitan Planning Organization, known as CRTPO.

Negatives of the Contract

We discussed the concerns about the contract that include the 50 year term of the contract that is with a foreign owned company, unknown cost of tolling rates due to variable rate tolling, the potential complications with merging into and out of the managed lanes, and the depth of the asphalt in the managed lanes that prevents trucks from using them.  We agreed that there is work to be done to make the contract better.  I encouraged the Senators to read the Executive Summary that addresses how Texas handled tolling when their projects opened as well as their requirement to have trucks use the lanes.  Local road improvements, with the current dollars allocated, will offer alternate North / South corridors for our residents to help reduce the dependency of using I-77 when traveling within our community.

Closing Remarks

Mayor Woods and I expressed concerns for a loss in property values for our businesses and homeowners if we do not get our interstate system fixed now – not 10 years or longer from now.  We are already seeing real estate sales in larger homes going to other locations based on conversations with local leading realtors.  Our quality of life has been affected by long and unpredictable commute times to and from Mooresville to Charlotte.  I also expressed my opinion that the “on line” poll, with a few hundred respondents, does not accurately reflect a desire to cancel the current contract and stop construction that has been underway for 6 months with a completion date in 2.5 years.

Both Mayor Woods and I acknowledged that we have very mixed feelings within our community towards the project and that our Town Boards have passed several Resolutions against the managed Lanes project.

Dinner with the Mecklenburg County Legislative Delegation

After our meeting, as part of the annual state-wide Town Hall Day in Raleigh, I attended the Mecklenburg County dinner as the representative from our Town.  Other participants included the Governor, Legislators from both the House and Senate, City of Charlotte Leaders and representatives from all Towns across the county except for one. Senator Tarte, Mayor Woods and I had a brief discussion with House Representative Jeter to let him know about the meeting with Senator Berger.

At the conclusion of dinner, several short comments and speeches were provided by Legislators and Mayors.  I fully support the words of Senator Tarte and his offer to, “do whatever is required to support and keep Pat in the Governor’s Mansion beyond this November.”

 

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