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Anti-Toll Bill Grinds To A Halt In Senate

Traffic on I-77 near Lake Norman
David Boraks

A bill calling on NCDOT to cancel a contract to build toll lanes on I-77 north of Charlotte has died in the state Senate.

The bill easily passed the state House three weeks ago, but it’s had a harder time in the Senate. Senator Jeff Tarte of Cornelius, the bill’s main Senate backer, said leaders have decided not to let it come up for a hearing.

“You can advertise that managed lanes will be coming to a town and county near you soon, and it's completely unfortunate, because the contract is an abject mess,” Tarte said.

Two years ago, the DOT signed a $650 million contract with a private company – Spain-based Cintra - to widen I-77 with optional toll lanes, or managed lanes, from Charlotte to Mooresville.

But ever since, citizens, businesspeople and local officials around Lake Norman have campaigned to undo the deal. They object to tolls and the contract's 50-year term, as well as the DOT's decision to work with a foreign contractor.  

Toll opponents organized an email campaign and lobbied for the bill in Raleigh. Kurt Naas, of the anti-toll group Widen I-77, thought it would go farther.  

“We're obviously disappointed. The House bill had broad bipartisan support and we don't know why the Senate would consider the issue differently than the House,” Naas said.

Tarte says it was simple: Senate leaders “are comfortable” with the toll-lane project. Even before the legislature’s short session began, Senate leader Phil Berger said he didn't see a need to cancel the contract.

Over the past few weeks, DOT officials also have lobbied legislators, arguing that a cancellation would be expensive and could have a domino effect, pushing back a long list of other state projects.   

Construction of the toll lanes actually began last November. The toll lanes are scheduled to open by January 2019.  


We’ll have more about the I-77 debate – and political fallout - during Charlotte Talks Thursday morning at 9 a.m. The show also will feature an interview with Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney. More at WFAE.org/charlottetalks 


Find out more about  I-77 widening on the project website, 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.