Tarte, Bradford backing plan to ditch tolls

Tarte, Bradford backing plan to ditch tolls

Meet the press: LKN business rock star Mac McAlpine

May 28. By Dave Yochum. Speaking at the “Emergency Call to Action” for Lake Norman business owners, UNC-Charlotte Professor Emeritus David Hartgen said plans to widen I-77 with tolls will have dire effects on traffic both on and around 77.

“Your local streets are going to be crammed full. The congestion on the feeder roads and the parallel roads are going to go way up,” said Hartgen. “This is a recipe for disaster.”

Before a packed auditorium of 150 business owners, he flatly declared: “This is one of the most foolish decisions I have seen in my 45 years in transportation studies in Charlotte.”

It may be possible to stop the toll plan if the business community dives into the issue the way a hog commits to a barbecue.

“If we have enough support from the business community, we can try to defund the express lanes and try to include monies in the NC Connect bonds,” said Sen. Jeff Tarte. It will take a concerted effort within the business community, which has gathered mightily around a quiet engineer with gumption from Cornelius.

Mac McAlpine, an engineer who is director of technology at MWR, organized the summit which attracted the power elite in Lake Norman, including NC Rep. John Bradford, NC Sen. Jeff Tarte and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett.  The “I-77 Business Transportation Summit” now under way includes business leaders ranging from lawyers and bankers to restaurateurs and Realtors.

In his presentation, McAlpine said the estimated $20 round trip during peak times would have an enormous negative effect on the local economy—some $12 billion over the course of the 50-year contract with Cintra, the Spanish company that was the sole bidder on the $655 million project.

There was an audible gasp from the audience when he contrasted the $20 million  to $100 million penalty that might be incurred should the contract be cancelled vs. the $12 billion hit to the local economy.

The odd configuration of the toll lanes—there is limited access near hospitals at Exits 23 and 33, as well as barriers separating them from general purpose lanes—coupled with congestion and restrictions on trucks in the toll lanes has business owners restive, to say the least.

Business productivity losses are estimated in the $10 bilion to $20 billion range, McAlpine said, calling the NCDOT-Cintra public-private partnership a  “recipe for economic disaster.”

Hartgen said “one of the central errors” in assumptions around the toll plan is growth. “If the tolls lanes are built, growth will slow substantially. a very substaitial impact,” he said.

A Cornelius manufacturer said his business will double over the next five years. He said he must consider moving the plant out of Cornelius.

“As a business person, contracts are made to be broken,” McAlpine said. “It’s not far-fetched to say that business will move away.”

Clearly, McAlpine tapped into passion, intellect and deeply held beliefs in the MWR auditorium.

“I think there is enough power in this area to influence the rest of North Carolina,” Puckett said. “There are business who are saying this will strangle us,” he said, explaining that businesses must work together, get involved and tell the legislature and the government

To view the presentation that was given at the meeting, click here.


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