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As Toll-Lane Plans Advance, HOT Lanes Are A Hot Topic

David Boraks

  The state Department of Transportation’s proposal to adopt toll lanes to help finance a widening of I-77 north of Charlotte continues to draw attention in north Mecklenburg, in public and private settings. A divided Cornelius Town Board again this week declined to take a public position against the idea. And next week, the North Meck Republican Women will host a meeting Tuesday that will feature an outspoken critic of toll lanes.

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  The Republican Women’s dinner is scheduled Tuesday, Dec. 11, in Huntersville on plans to finance the widening of I-77 north of Charlotte using high occupancy toll lanes. Kurt Naas, a Cornelius resident who opposes the toll-lane proposal, will be among the speakers. (Details below.)
Congestion on I-77 is a daily headache for commuters from the Lake Norman area, and planners say congestion will worsen unless the road is widened. But funding is limited and the project isn’t even on the state or regional priority lists for another decade or more. So officials are considering alternative funding options, such as partial toll lanes, to help pay for the project.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has proposed building two high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on I-77 from Fifth Street in Charlotte north to N.C. 150 (Exit 36) in Mooresville. Carpoolers, van-pools, motorcycles, and public buses would be able to use the HOT lanes free, while other travelers would have the option of paying to use the extra lanes.
The toll lanes likely would be built and operated by a private company through a “public-private partnership.” Toll revenues would help the private operator pay off private financing to build the lanes. State and some local officials say the idea is the best way to widen the road sooner than currently planned, which may not be until 2025 or 2030.
The ball is already rolling on at least part of the HOT lanes plan: State and regional officials are completing work on a Request for Proposals that would be sent to potential bidders. They hope to have bids by March, Bill Thunberg, executive director of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, said Wednesday.
But critics of the toll plan have emerged, including Mr. Naas, who is a member of the Cornelius Transportation Advisory Board. He and others say toll lanes won’t solve the problem, that the economics don’t work and that he thinks the state should be compelled to come up with money expand I-77 with general purpose lanes, not toll lanes.
Mr. Naas has been urging the Cornelius Town Board to take a public stand against the HOT lanes plan. At the board’s Sept. 4 meeting, he said he thinks there’s money in the state budget to expand the interstate without tolls. Public pressure could persuade the DOT to divert money from elsewhere, he said. Or, he suggested, area towns might band together to issue bonds to pay for it.
He has found a sympathetic ear in Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy, who said at the September board meeting that area public officials have “sleepwalked” and failed to question the proposal for HOT lanes.
Continue reading at CorneliusNews.net.