Online petition: 6,500 anti-toll signatures in 36 hours


Dec. 15. By Dave Yochum. With Gov. Pat McCrory telling the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization to weigh in once and for all on I-77 tolls, he’s calling the question on managed lanes all around Charlotte.

Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla says “the people have already spoken loudly,” especially in North Mecklenburg.  Indeed, an online petition calling for the CRTPO to vote “no” on the toll plan already has more than 2,000 signatures in less than 24 hours. Click here to view the petition

“We believe it is not a solution for this area,” Aneralla said. The CRTPO, which has oversight for transportation projects and timelines around the region, meets Jan. 20.

There is a widening gulf between much of the local political leadership and the governor.  Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham said the toll issue is “white hot” in North Mecklenburg.

‘Houston we have a problem’

“I think the governor realizes he is in a ‘Houston we have a problem’ moment in his administration,” Cotham says.

The Huntersville election results—the mayor, in particular—indicates ordinary people are in the driver’s seat, Cotham said.

“They can control his legacy and future with their votes. The governor is looking for friends with his letter or maybe someone to share the pain,” she said.

Long-time Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy said the governor’s letter relied on “shameful scare tactics.”

Saying that it was obviously written by the NCDOT, Gilroy said the governor’s letter “is an over-the-top, ‘the world-as-you-know-it-will-end’ threat to our regional officials who are simply trying to represent the clear interest of 95 percent of their constituents faced with 50 years of calamity.”

The $650 million contract with Cintra, née Ferrovial is for 50 years. There is an all-out effort among a number of local legislators, including Sen. Jeff Tarte and Rep. John Bradford, to cancel the contract.

Not so much former Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain and former Huntersville Commissioner Sarah McAulay. Both, of course, were voted out. McAulay was the presiding chairwoman of the CRTPO when she was defeated.

Gilroy said they were out of step with the majority of the population at a time when there is a critical need for “regional unanimity” in the political scene.

Ancient history

Gilroy said NCDOT’s talking points are “always the same, again and again, pointing to the…approval of I-77 tolls by local elected officials years ago.”

“While this is ancient history and nearly all regional leaders are now opposed to I-77 tolls, severe damage was indeed done through the profound poor judgment of Jill Swain, Sarah McAulay, John Woods, and Chuck Travis, who cast critical votes and have continued to advocate for tolls, even as new facts have piled up and grassroots public hatred of the project has escalated,” Gilroy said.

Travis, the mayor of Cornelius, and Woods, the mayor of Davidson, did not respond to emails asking for comment. Neither responded to the I-77 Business Plan’s candidate survey this past fall.

Gilroy also blasted the NCDOT for its advocacy and what he said is a predilection for making policy as opposed to implementing it.

“We all always want to assume public officials are acting in good faith, but a reasonable person has to find this bizarre situation disturbing, with NCDOT leadership emotional and frantic for I-77 tolls to proceed; a sole bidder, Cintra/Ferrovial, marked by a long-standing history of bribery and corruption globally; and Cintra’s self-evident and well-reported failure to disclose potentially disqualifying facts during NCDOT’s bid process,” Gilroy said.

Although he has a background in high finance, Gilroy did not comment on any costs Cintra might have incurred during the underwriting of the project this past year. Construction got under way in November. Estimates of a penalty for canceling the contract run as high as $100 million, but no one seems to really know.

Grave concerns about Cintra and Ferrovial were raised before the NCDOT went ahead and hastened the contract signing which apparently cedes critical rights of way over Lake Norman to a Spanish company.

Cornelius Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam said the governor’s letter “once again passed the buck on toll roads” in the Charlotte and Lake Norman. Charlotte holds an ace in this deck, says Washam, Cornelius’ representative on the CRTPO.

While Mecklenburg County, Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville are coming out strong against the tolls plan, Charlotte City Councilwoman Vi Lyles has a weighted vote carrying 31 of the 68 total CRTPO votes.

“Our local issue is all about the bad deal that his NCDOT struck with a company like Cintra. With Charlotte controlling the weighted vote at CRTPO, I do think we have slightly more hope that their City Council may be allowed to provide a directed vote in this matter to their transportation rep, Vi Lyles.  Once that is decided, we will have a much clearer picture of which direction this will take,” Washam said.

A Charlotte city transportation committee meets Jan. 4. The City Council is expected to direct Lyles’ vote on the CTRPO afterward.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts’ position on I-77 tolls is unclear, although she ran against the toll concept for Independence Boulevard/US-74. “Her concern is the penalty,” Aneralla said, explaining that he had spoken to the new mayor.

LKN Chamber Chair Russell said he is “quite troubled” that the governor is even suggesting a cancelation penalty that would be paid by local municipalities. “I was unaware that cancellation penalties from state contracts could be passed along to local municipalities,” he said.

Aneralla said the bigger issue is that the I-77 toll plan won’t work. “If this were a business and things changed and you have more information, then you do make changes. It has become very clear that this $650 million toll plan is not the solution we have talked about,” Aneralla said. “It looks like the only reason we are going forward is because a lot of planning has gone into it.”

Alternate routes

The Lake Norman Chamber came out strong against the toll plan in June after appearing to be neutral on the subject. Mike Russell, chairman of the chamber, said the toll plan is a disaster for the local economy, partly because it prevents tractor-trailers from using the toll lanes—the contract states that they are not sufficiently thick to carry heavy loads.

The I-77 Business Plan, a high-level anti-toll strategy group that meets at the Lake Norman Chamber every week, is, among other things, suggesting that I-77 can be widened at a much lower cost by simply “hardening” the shoulders.

Such temporary lanes don’t need a full environmental report, Russell said.

On another front, the anti toll group goes to court Jan. 8 in an effort to stop the tolls. Organized by Concord businessman Kurt Naas, the group has raised more than $100,000 from businesses and private individuals.

Gilroy said the “really depressing point though is that there is zero engagement with NCDOT on any new or different ideas, only hyper-advocacy of tolls. This has been utterly true since the first moment the idea of tolls surfaced in local public meetings four or five years ago.”


7 Responses to “Online petition: 6,500 anti-toll signatures in 36 hours”

  1. Say good bye to Gov. McCintra

    Posted by Paul Aiken | December 15, 2015, 9:10 pm
  2. Get rid of toll lanes.

    Posted by William Speicher | December 15, 2015, 9:55 pm
  3. Gov McCrory, please explain how you can ignore bad decisions , allow NCDOT to lead you by the nose, and hand over one of the largest economic engines in your state to a corrupt foreign company for 50 years. Why are you not involved in such a long term economic decision affecting our state? Do you have something more important to do? You were elected to lead, so lets see some of it. Please read the contract you are obligated to live with and get back to us. Dave will be happy to report your responses here. We will be waiting……..

    Posted by Brian Tarle | December 16, 2015, 1:48 am
  4. As a former Ivey Corporate exec, and a supporter of our former Mayor, I am appalled by his lack of leadership ref the I-77 crisis…. Just only this past weekend I ventured north and returned only to find the new;y proposed routes so difficult and uneasy to read…..meaning many many accidents to follow…..(attempting to make space NS to obtain new lanes by a foreign country…….Wise up, Mr Mayor, some want you for the 2nd term. How did so few do this to you and the North Meck population ?????? Charles Thomas

    Posted by Charles Thomas | December 16, 2015, 4:19 am
  5. I vote NO to toll lanes.

    Posted by John Webb | December 16, 2015, 9:39 pm
  6. I vote “No” on the toll lanes for I77

    Posted by Miles Pollack | December 18, 2015, 5:12 pm
  7. Fire McCintra, Thom Toll Road Tillis and Nick Toll Road Tennyson!!!

    Posted by Raul Sanchez | December 28, 2015, 10:35 pm

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