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Charlotte Council Committee Backs Toll Lanes; Full Council Vote Still To Come

The transportation committee of the Charlotte City Council voted Monday to continue support of controversial toll lanes planned for I-77, I-485 and U-S 74.  The full council is scheduled to take up the issue later this month.

The 3-2 vote came as opponents pressed the council to take a stand against the I-77 project.  The NCDOT has contracted with a private company, Cintra, to build and operate toll lanes on 26 miles of I-77 from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 36 in Mooresville.  But opponents don't like the idea of tolls or a private company's involvement. They want the state to cancel the project and instead build conventional lanes on the most congested stretch of the road, between Huntersville and Cornelius. 

The I-77 plan isn't the only one in the works. NCDOT also plans to widen I-485 in south Charlotte, I-77 south of Charlotte and U.S. 74 using toll lanes. 

A City Council spokeswoman said Monday the committee's vote was a continued endorsement of toll lanes around the region.

Amid opposition to the I-77 plan, including a lawsuit and pleas from area legislators, Gov. Pat McCrory last month asked the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO) to re-affirm or reverse its previous support for the state’s toll lane plans.

Charlotte controls nearly half the votes of the planning organization. Monday's discussion at the City Council's Transportation Committee came as the council reviews whether to change its stance on tolls.

The full council is scheduled to hear public comments on the issue Jan. 11, and could take a vote as early as then whether to direct its representative to the regional transportation planning group, council member Vi Lyles, to approve toll lanes.

Lyles was among the council subcommittee members who voted to support tolls Monday. 

The City Council spokeswoman said after hearing comments Jan. 11, the council could decide to put off a vote until its Jan. 19 meeting.  That's one day before the CRTPO is scheduled to vote. 

UPDATE: On Tuesday night, the Mecklenburg County Commission voted again on the issue. The council directed its representative to CRTPO to vote against toll lanes. See coverage in The Charlotte Observer.

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.