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Widen I-77 Group Files Lawsuit Against I-77 Toll Project

Michael Tomsic

An anti-toll group filed a lawsuit Tuesday to put the brakes on North Carolina’s solution to horrible traffic on I-77. The group, called Widen I-77, is trying to stop the state Department of Transportation from partnering with a Spanish company to add toll lanes.

Connie Evans says traffic on I-77 in the Lake Norman area can be brutal. She worries about her grandkids, who commute from Mooresville to Davidson for school.

"I realized how dangerous it is and how crowded and how much time they spent and waste on the road," she says. "If they only widened it, we'd be much better off. We wouldn't have to worry about all these other issues."

The other issues are what brought Evans and about 15 other people from Widen I-77 to the uptown law office of Matt Arnold. The group is suing North Carolina over its plan to ease congestion by adding toll lanes that would be optional for drivers.

"There are I think four or five different ways in which we contended that the state has unconstitutionally delegated its taxing authority and failed to provide appropriate limitations on the taxing powers that it has delegated," Arnold says.

Basically, the group argues the state is giving too much authority to a private company - in this case, a subsidiary of Spanish company Cintra.

It would set the toll prices. At a public meeting in Mooresville a few months ago, company spokeswoman Jean Leier said the prices would vary based on traffic. 

"It would be a deterrent for us to set the tolls prohibitively high because the whole point is for people to use those lanes," she said. "And so with dynamic pricing, we are also mandated to keep that 45 mph minimum speed limit in there."

That's part of the contract: traffic in the toll lanes has to move at least 45 mph on average. 

The company would keep most or all of the revenue. That's its reward for covering more than 80 percent of the cost of construction. It's scheduled to begin this summer, and it'll add lanes over a 26-mile stretch from uptown to Iredell County.  

"But we don’t need 26 miles of widening," Widen I-77 leader Kurt Naas says. "What we need is a 13-mile stretch through the Lake Norman region. That '26' includes, for instance, dedicated private toll lane bridges going into uptown."

Naas estimates his group's plan can be done for around $100 million.

Under the current project, the state is on the hook for $88 million, although that could go up to $163 million if toll revenues fall dramatically short of projections.

State transportation officials declined to comment on the lawsuit specifically, but they maintain the project is the fastest, cheapest solution for I-77.

Naas says more than 100 residents of the Lake Norman area have donated a total of about $20,000 to help Widen I-77 take this fight to court. 

You can view the lawsuit here