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NC Supreme Court Dismisses Appeal By I-77 Toll Foes

Toll opponents protested on the Exit 28 overpass in Cornelius Friday.
Shelley Rigger
Toll opponents protested on the Exit 28 overpass in Cornelius in April

A citizens' group's legal fight to halt the I-77 toll lane project north of Charlotte is over. The state Supreme Court has dismissed a last-chance appeal of a suit filed in 2015. But a leader of the anti-toll group says he still hopes politicians will cancel the project.

The group Widen I-77 filed suit in 2015 against NCDOT, the state of North Carolina and contractor I-77 Mobility Partners. Two lower courts ruled against the Lake Norman-area group, which argued the contract with a private company was unconstitutional.

“We're obviously disappointed by the news,” said Kurt Naas, a leader of the group Widen I-77. “We had hoped to have our grievances addressed in court. But we also know we kept our promises to the people who donated to make the lawsuit possible.”

Naas said he thinks there's a still a chance politicians will decide to keep tolls off the new lanes.

“What's been bandied about in the news recently is the ‘complete and delete’ option, where the project is completed, the state buys out the contract, and then opens up the general purpose lanes. And that is very much alive,” Naas said. 

That's one of the options provided by a consultant hired by the state earlier this year to re-examine the toll project. But it could be costly – significantly more than $300 million, by some estimates.

NCDOT is currently reviewing a half-dozen options for revising the contract with I-77 Mobility Partners, an arm of Spanish construction giant Cintra.

The private company is widening 26 miles of I-77 with toll lanes from the Brookshire Freeway near uptown to Exit 36.  I-77 Mobility is privately financing most of the $650 million cost. The lanes are supposed to open at the end of 2018.

I-77 Mobility applauded the ruling in a statement Tuesday:

 “We are pleased that the North Carolina Supreme Court recently upheld the lower courts’ decisions regarding the I-77 Express Lanes project. The partnership to build the I-77 Express Lanes represents an innovative solution for transportation construction in the area.” 

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