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Charlotte Area News

After I-77 'Summit,' Still No Agreement on Tolls

nick tennyson
David Boraks
N.C. Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson spoke at Monday's I-77 toll summit at Cornelius Town Hall.

Workers have repainted lane lines and posted orange construction signs on I-77 in the Lake Norman area as work begins to widen the road with toll lanes. But there’s still lots of opposition, and local officials fighting the plan got no hope when they met NCDOT leaders in Cornelius Monday morning in what was billed as an I-77 Summit.

Interstate 77 is straight shot north out of Charlotte. But Monday’s “toll lane summit” at Cornelius Town Hall had more of a circular theme.

Opponents demanded that NCDOT cancel its contract with a private company to build the toll lanes. They went around and around with state officials defending the plan. After nearly three hours, the debate ended up where it started - at an impasse.

County Commissioner Jim Puckett, who represents north Mecklenburg, compared the 26-mile project to a hunter’s misfired shot.   

"You do the cock, aim and fire. This is the classic cock, fire and aim. Now we need to go back and do some adjustments because we didn’t aim to begin with," he said.

Credit David Boraks / WFAE
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett spoke, demanding that the governor cancel the state's contract with I-77 Mobility Partners, which is building the toll lanes.

State Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson saw things differently. “I disagree with almost everything that you have to say," he said.

“While this (the Lake Norman) area may have a different view about this public facility, when you get down to it, this is a regional decision about the entire region."

Tennyson says it’s up to the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, or CRTPO, to make any changes – not Governor McCrory. CRTPO approved the toll lane project in the first place.

Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville organized the meeting. He says opponents will take Tennyson’s advice and go to CRTPO.

"I don’t think it’s necessary, but that’s what they want, and that’s what we’ll try to provide," Jeter said.

Jeter says toll opponents will seek another CRTPO vote at its January meeting. NCDOT says cancelation could force the state to pay up to $100 million to the private company that’s paying for most of the construction and has a 50-year contract to run the tolls.

The CRTPO doesn't meet again until January 20. The organization's secretary, Robert Cook, said any member may request that an item be added to the agenda. But he said it would be "unusual" for the group to vote on any proposal that doesn't come through its usually planning process. 

Cook also said any change to the region's long-term Transportation Improvement Program, such as deleting a project, could trigger a requirement for a new federal air quality compliance review. And that could take three to four months, he said.