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I-77 Toll Opponents To Appeal Lawsuit Dismissal

Traffic on I-77 near Lake Norman
David Boraks
Traffic on I-77 near Lake Norman.

Opponents of toll lanes on I-77 said Friday they’ll appeal the January dismissal of their lawsuit that tried to stop the NCDOT project.

The anti-toll group Widen I-77 filed a notice of appeal March 22 at Mecklenburg County Superior Court. That’s where Judge Osmond W. Smith in January ruled against the group, saying canceling the contract should be up to NCDOT or the General Assembly, not the court. 

Widen I-77 leader Kurt Naas of Cornelius told WFAE Friday he’s not sure where the appeal will wind up, either at the state Court of Appeals or state Supreme Court. He’d prefer the Supreme Court because, he says, the NCDOT’s contract with I-77 Mobility Partners is unconstitutional.

"The constitutional issue is that the contract allows a private company the unfettered right to charge whatever tolls they want, and a portion of that gets returned back to the government," Naas said Friday. "We maintain the portion that goes back to the government is a tax, and the constitution forbids third parties from levying and collecting taxes."

It could be several months before an appeal is heard. Meanwhile, construction of the toll lanes began last winter.

The DOT has a $655 million, 50-year contract with I-77 Mobility Partners, a subsidiary of Spain-based Cintra, to widen 26 miles of the congested interstate from Charlotte to Mooresville. It’s the first project of its kind in North Carolina that uses a private company to build and operate toll lanes.

NCDOT officials have defended the project and warned that if it's canceled, it could cost between $80 million and $300 million. Officials also have said the region's long-range transportation plans would have to be revised, and the area would lose $145 million in bonus transportation funds that the DOT has promised.

In January, regional leaders and the Charlotte City Council reaffirmed support for the I-77 project. 

NCDOT says the toll lanes should be complete in 2018. Drivers will be able use the lanes for a fee, which will rise and fall according to the amount of traffic. The contract requires the lanes to maintain a speed of at least 45 mph.  Tolls would be charged using radio transponders that drivers purchase in advance.

Not everyone will have to pay the toll. The lanes will be free for commuter buses and emergency vehicles as well as carpoolers with at least three passengers, and motorcycles.


WidenI77.org, the anti-toll group's website.  

Find out more about the I-77 project at http://www.i77express.com/

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.