Sen. Tarte says Davidson toll resolution is helpful


June 10. By Dave Yochum. While it wasn’t as strong as toll opponents had hoped, the Town of Davidson has officially expressed its concerns with the NCDOT/Cintra plan to widen I-77 with toll lanes. A resolution drafted by Commissioner Jim Fuller with input from NC Sen. Jeff Tarte passed 4-0 in front of a packed house Tuesday night.

The resolution supports efforts by Tarte and NC. Rep. John Bradford to explore legislative options to the $650-million widening project between Charlotte and Lake Norman. Meanwhile, construction, which was supposed to start next month, won’t begin until next year.

The founder of the Widen I-77 anti-toll group, Concord business owner Kurt Naas, said the resolution, in light of construction delays, was disappointing. He said Widen will continue to pursue its lawsuit in NC Superior Court.

“Toll lanes were sold to us under the premise that I-77 would be widened sooner. We’ve been told that since 2011. This latest delay demonstrates yet again the toll project is more about crony capitalism and bloated bureaucracy than it is about serving the residents of Lake Norman,” Naas said.

Nevertheless, Tarte, the former mayor of Cornelius, said the Davidson resolution is one more arrow in his legislative quiver. He aims to use resolutions from local and county governments in Lake Norman to build support in the General Assembly and shoot down the Cintra deal.

“I have stated publicly if the Lake Norman area municipalities and Mecklenburg County request through a formal resolution that I file legislation to defund tolling the section of I-77 through Lake Norman I will do so,” Tarte told Business Today and Cornelius Today. Tarte said the Davidson resolution supports defunding, but less ardently than Cornelius. “I await word from the County and Huntersville as to their position on this matter,” Tarte said.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett says he has enough votes on the county’s highest board to pass a resolution in favor of defunding the Cintra deal as well. The Mecklenburg County Commissioners meet next week.

Meanwhile, the Lake Norman Chamber today began asking members to respond one way or another to an email poll:

  1. I support the current funding method of widening I77 through a public private partnership (P3) keeping existing lanes as general purpose lanes and introducing HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes.
  2. I support any and all efforts to stop the existing toll lane funding plan and support legislation that could provide for more “General Purpose Lanes.”

John “Mac” McAlpine V mobilized the business community at an “Emergency Call to Action” on the I-77 toll plan two weeks ago at Michael Waltrip Raceworld. (See related story.)

“I can not overstate how important Michael Waltrip Racing and Mac McAlpine’s leadership in educating and then leading the business community in our fight to end what is now almost universally recognized as an economic death sentence to our region. The willingness of the motorsports community to step up to face the challenges of our region, lend their voice and their assets to protect the business environment of North Mecklenburg and Iredell County shows how committed they are to building the best community in America to live and work,” Puckett said.

McAlpine will be the Newsmakers Breakfast speaker June 16 at The Peninsula Club. (Call Business Today and Cornelius Today to RSVP: 704-895-1335.)

McAlpine, who has launched a petition drive in the business community, was heartened by the Davidson resolution. “With Davidson’s resolution we have another unanimous decision in favor of halting the I77 Express lane economic disaster. As more facts emerge, we continue to see how it will decimate the local economy, have ripple effects throughout the United States and significantly hurt the state’s bottom line,” McAlpine said.

There are serious penalties if the contract is cancelled or defunded. At the first contractual close last year penalties were only $20 million. Now, with work having been done and bonds issued, the penalty is five times greater, NCDOT Undersecretary Nick Tennyson told Davidson commissioners.

Tennyson told the audience in Davidson that growth in and around Lake Norman “will consume any pavement that is out there” in a matter of five years. Tolls, he said, help communities decide on different transit options, like carpooling and buses/mass transit.

Asked what we could expect to happen without Cintra, Tennyson said the process to fund I-77 without tolls would require a statewide decision in Raleigh; the project would also have to be ranked statewide, and scored in relation to potentially similar projects (including total congestion, impact on freight, safety); an EPA study would have to be undertaken.

Initial estimates said widening I-77 in Lake Norman alone was a $100 million project, a sharp contrast to the $650 million plan put forward by the NCDOT.

Rep. Bradford, a former Cornelius commissioner, said the strength of these resolutions is “a critical tool” to convince the Senate and House leadership to agree to take up any bills regarding this issue.

“Any local elected support that the Senate or House leadership could view as weak or not even unanimous for contract termination will make the legislative process even more challenging. In fact, this scenario could possibly cause difficulty in even getting the legislation heard in Committee which is a required step before taking a floor vote,” Bradford said.

To download the PDF of the resolution drafted at the Davidson Town Hall meeting, click here.


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