Construction on I-77 toll lanes between Charlotte and Mooresville is expected to begin next year. More than 120 people came out to Mooresville to learn about the lanes and sign petitions to stop the project. The meeting was organized by the group Widen I-77, which is against the toll lanes.
Warren Cooksey is a former Charlotte City councilman who is now the director of outreach for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. His job is to explain to people why projects like the High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes on I-77 are a good idea.
At the end of the meeting, he looked flustered when audience members interrupted media interviews.
Cooksey: Every entry point is an exit point.
Audience Member: It is not. Why didn't you object when Kurt put his thing up there that said that you get in here and you can get out at Exit 19?
Cooksey: That's incorrect. Every …
Audience Member: Why didn't you say that?
Cooksey: Because this isn't my meeting. This is his meeting. I'm not going to stand up and interrupt every point that's inaccurate.
Residents were also frustrated during the question and answer period. For one, they want to know how much the toll lanes would cost. A 2012 study by a DOT consultant estimates a Mooresville to Charlotte roundtrip at the peak time would cost $21.63. Cooksey downplayed that report. He says it all depends on driver demand at any given time.
NCDOT signed a contract with a Spanish company Cintra Infraestructres to build toll lanes from Exit 11 in Charlotte to Exit 36 in Mooresville. The state pays $88 million dollars and the company will pay more than 80 percent of the cost, or $550 million. In exchange, Cintra will be allowed to collect tolls on those lanes for the next 50 years.
"If the project is a failure and nobody uses the toll lanes, then that's a disaster," says Widen I-77 founder Kurt Naas. "Because then the taxpayer has to step in and even though we get 50 or 60 cents on the dollar, we had to buy a lot of useless infrastructure that's tolling-specific. But if the project is a success, that's a disaster, because we're going to be siphoning millions of dollars out of our local economy."
Naas predicts the toll lanes will guarantee congestion because so many drivers will avoid them.
Volunteers passed around a collection jar during the meeting to help with court costs if they decide to sue the state to stop the project. Widen I-77 has been pushing for a smaller-scale project that would add one general purpose lane. The group estimates that would cost $130 million.
Sept. 10, 2014, Davidsonnews.net, “Toll lane opponents want governor to nullify Cintra contract”