Point counterpoint: I-77 toll lanes


Kurt Naas


By Kurt Naas. Now that local governments and businesses have lined up against the I-77 toll lanes, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has been offering up three more rationales why they must move forward with this project.

First, we’ve been told it’s “tolls or nothing for 20 years.”  That may have been true in 2011, but in 2013 North Carolina passed the Strategic Transportation Initiative with the objective of removing (as much as possible) the politics from transportation funding.

We have always maintained an I-77 general purpose lane project scored on objective criteria would rank high enough to be funded by its merits. Last summer the NCDOT scored four such hypothetical projects.  If those projects were in the transportation plan today they would outscore 25 projects that are currently receiving funding within the next 3-10 years.  The situation has changed but the reasoning has not.

Second, NCDOT states if they cancelled the contract the taxpayer could incur a $100 million penalty. They have yet to release any analyses supporting that claim. However, assuming that number is correct even with the penalty it actually costs the taxpayer less to cancel the contract and build general purpose lanes.  For the private toll lane project taxpayers will be ponying up over $240 million in construction costs and toll subsidies compared to approximately $220 million for a focused general purpose lane project plus the penalty. That does not include $13 billion in projected toll revenues that will be siphoned out of our local economy over the 50 years.

Third, they note the regional planning organization (Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization or CRTPO) approved the tolling project unanimously.  Indeed, in May of 2013 CRTPO did just that.  A couple of weeks ago, at their May 2015 meeting, CRTPO could have joined all of the Lake Norman towns in calling for a pause to review the tolling contract.  They did not.

That non-decision was due to the voting structure of CRTPO. Every town sends delegates- but their votes are weighted by population. Charlotte’s vote, in the person of Councilwoman Vi Lyles, counts for 46% of the vote.  Charlotte needs one other delegate to comprise a majority. In this government structure delegates’ first concern is appeasing Charlotte; constituent’s concerns are secondary. Lyles served on the Committee of 21, a Charlotte-centric organization that advocated tolling back in 2009. Her position has not evolved despite today’s dramatically different situation.

We now have the specter of a $5 billion government agency holding 150,000 residents hostage by the single vote of a person who neither represents them nor lives in the area, and last addressed the topic in earnest six years ago.

That is not democracy; it is tyranny.

— Kurt Naas is the founder and spokesman for Widen I-77. He is also vice president of Aline Corp., Concord.


Nick Tennyson


By Nick Tennyson. The I-77 corridor from Mooresville to Charlotte is among the most congested areas in the state. Whether traveling during the morning drive or evening rush hour, motorists in and around this growing region are familiar with that daily gridlock.

Recently, NCDOT has been called upon to cancel the contract for the I-77 Express Lanes project, a project designed to provide long-term relief to that chronic congestion. While we respect and appreciate the many voices and opinions of this project, it’s important that we address some of those concerns and also look ahead to the opportunity to provide a long-term congestion management solution for this area.

Simply put, the I-77 Express Lanes project is not NCDOT’s project to cancel. This express lanes project was studied by, requested by and unanimously approved by the local planning organization (CRTPO formerly MUMPO). The planning organization continues to support the express lanes project today, and NCDOT is moving forward with construction from the planning organization’s directive.

Like the CRTPO, NCDOT believes this project is the best option for increased mobility and more reliable travel time within the I-77 corridor from Mooresville to Charlotte. At this time, the I-77 Express Lanes project is the only long-term traffic management solution guaranteed to be built – and that project will be delivered and operational in roughly three years. Express lanes give motorists a choice: They can choose to remain in the general-purpose lanes for free, choose to carpool with three or more people in the vehicle to use the express lanes at no additional charge, or choose to pay the fee to use the express lanes and travel at least 45 mph.

Despite the increased number of options provided to motorists, some people continue to advocate for contract cancellation so that the state can pursue widening the road with general-purpose lanes. Canceling this project, however, does not automatically convert work to general-purpose lane construction. Under state law, any new project would have to be submitted through the data-driven scoring process that occurs every two years, called the Strategic Mobility Formula. Projects must rank high enough against other projects statewide in order to be eligible for funding. There is no guarantee that any future general-purpose lanes project would be funded through that process.

Additionally, widening I-77 with general-purpose lanes is only a temporary solution to congestion within the corridor. As the region continues to grow, those new general-purpose lanes would soon be clogged once again. The express lanes project and the public-private partnership with I-77 Mobility Partners will provide a long-term congestion solution that will provide reliable travel time for many years to come.

Finally, the project provides the opportunity for a multi-million dollar investment into the I-77 north region. Under the agreement NCDOT is investing $95 million directly into the I-77 Express Lanes project, and an additional $145 million in other transportation projects for a total $240 million investment in the region.

The I-77 Express Lanes Project will provide long-awaited infrastructure improvements to the I-77 corridor. NCDOT looks forward to providing those improvements to the citizens of this region.

— Nick Tennyson is Chief Deputy Secretary for NCDOT


10 Responses to “Point counterpoint: I-77 toll lanes”

  1. Great post and Thank You Kurt Naas . But can you remove Nick Tennyson picture. I JUST ATE LUNCH THANKS

    Posted by [email protected] | July 7, 2015, 4:53 pm
  2. I almost feel sorry for Nick Tennyson. I think he just has some talking points approved by bureaucrats. They don’t ever address anyone’s concerns and just make him sound totally out of touch. In the third paragraph from the bottom, at least he admits that the goal isn’t to alleviate congestion. Hopefully they’ll now quit lying and saying that it is.

    Posted by George Martin | July 7, 2015, 5:31 pm
  3. Again with the NCDOT misinformation about free carpooling. Only if you have a transponder with, of course, a fee.

    Posted by Russ Lyman | July 7, 2015, 5:51 pm
  4. Its astounding to watch Nick Tennyson continue to stubbornly (and foolishly) promote his deceptive fork-tongued rationale.

    Today Nick states, “…(the I-77 toll lanes is) a project designed to provide long-term relief to that chronic congestion.” But numerous times, representatives of the NCDOT, I-77 Mobility Partners and others involved in building and promoting these lanes have stated they are not designed to alleviate congestion at all, but rather provide an escape from congestion for those willing to pay the expensive tolls on “express” lanes. Nick needs to get his “story” straight.

    Later, Nick states, “This express lanes project was studied by, requested by and unanimously approved by the local planning organization (CRTPO formerly MUMPO).” Sorry Nick, your state organization has told locals for years…that there was no money to build anything but toll lanes. Backed against a wall, the locals had no choice but to succumb to the NCDOT’s threats of toll lanes or “no improvements for 20 years” which you continue to tell us. Now you blame them? Nick apparently has no shame as he misleads people.

    And then Nick states, “Express lanes give motorists a choice.” Here is the choice. Remain trapped in traffic, or pay through the nose to use an express lane 90% of the population cannot afford…all so that the NCDOT can profit by our roads….versus pay for them as they should. Who can afford up to $5000 per year to travel to work? Not anyone I know. But Nick says “its your choice.” Tell that to an elderly person on a limited budget, or a college or high school student, or a single mom working to raise a family. Nick isn’t listening, unless you have deep pockets.

    And listen to this nonsense Nick spews…..”…widening I-77 with general-purpose lanes is only a temporary solution to congestion within the corridor. As the region continues to grow, those new general-purpose lanes would soon be clogged once again.” But expensive toll lanes that few can afford somehow magically stop clogging? Nick didn’t say that…..and Nick avoids answering that question because he knows his nonsense is thus exposed. The reality is….no matter how many cars there are, free general purpose lanes are the only option to allow everyone the best opportunity to commute. Toll lanes only allow a few people to use them. The vast majority remain clogged in traffic, and as the region continues to grow…even more people will be trapped in congestion, because the toll lanes will restrict additional people from driving on them, by forever increasing the cost of tolls….to keep the guaranteed 45 mph speed limit. Nick tells you half-truths.

    The one thing Nick is honest about is the $240 million he is ready to spend on the toll lanes. Toll lanes which will cost local Lake Norman economy up to $34 million per year. Nick doesn’t tell you about that though. He just says…take the toll lanes or you get nothing. Meanwhile…that $240 million could build all the free lanes we need for many years to come. But, that isn’t what Nick wants.

    Posted by Nils Lucander | July 7, 2015, 5:54 pm
  5. After analyzing the implementation of the toll lanes, I would rather wait on a real solution, even if it’s 20 years, than to be burdoned with a rediculous non-solution with no option to fix for 50 years. Too bad NCDOT officials’ compensation isn’t linked to satisfaction surveys. No Skin in the Game.

    Posted by Michael "Dr Mike" Miltich, MD | July 7, 2015, 7:37 pm
  6. I would like to understand Mr. Tennyson’s argument that adding 1 GP lane cannot help congestion, but adding 1 toll lane can? In reality the toll lane will NOT relieve congestion on I-77. It’s NOT designed to relieve congestion on I-77. It is a business that is designed to take money out of the NC economy and send it to a Spanish company. The only plan to relieve congestion is for the toll lane and those willing to pay $20/day to drive from Lake Norman to Charlotte and back. The congestion relief is only for the toll lane itself with the additional variable fees/fines/taxes. This contract guarantees gridlock for 50 more years on I-77, 21, and 115. That’s what it is designed to do. BTW, for those in Charlotte who think this is not their problem. That extra $5000/year per person spent on driving to work is going to come out of my discretionary income spent on things like shopping at South Park, or North Lake, or ticket to games, concerts, racing events, dining, and theatre tickets in Charlotte.

    Posted by Phil Armstrong | July 7, 2015, 8:00 pm
  7. NCDOT signed the financial contract with CINTRA the night before the CRTPO was to discuss and vote on requesting the DOT put the brakes on this contract for a thorough review. To say the CRtPO is on board with this 50 year contract is ridiculous. Further the compensation clause states no other general purpose lane can be added to I77 for FIFTY YEARS unless DOT pay CINTRA some sort of fee based on lost revenue. Nick also forgets to mention the plan for this toll project is not yet finalized and will not be until maybe the end of this year. Construction is sometime next year…maybe. There is still time to stop this. The contract states the DOT can cancel this contract at any point. $100 million cost is unsubsgantiated. One thing for Nick…he knows how to put a good spin on things.

    Posted by Pattie Marshall | July 7, 2015, 8:17 pm
  8. Why can’t we renegotiate the contract to terms more in line with both sides….i.e. toll limits, lower time limit duration for CINTRA to reap profits etc? I am sure we would have negotiating power if we were going to walk away totally???? Can’t imagine they would want to lose the whole deal over those issues?

    Posted by Cindi Ferguson | July 7, 2015, 10:46 pm
  9. So how can it be “The I-77 corridor from Mooresville to Charlotte is among the most congested areas in the state.” but not score well via the STI? Can’t have it both ways. Score it properly, with only the current GP lanes counted and fix this mess the correct way. If not we should make sure no elected officials are allowed to be reimbursed for tolls using our tax dollars. Enough is enough.

    Posted by Dave Pinard | July 8, 2015, 12:59 am
  10. Given the recent history of trouble with corruption and overcharging for Ferrovial and Cintra this state is disgraced by continuing to keep the contract. It should be null and void for the failure to disclose these significant corruption issues. Stop embarrassing our state Tennyson and McCrory! Please!

    Posted by Anette powell | September 11, 2015, 7:41 pm

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