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Cornelius News

Anti-toll forces gain speed in I-77 battle

April 29. UPDATED 5:45. By Dave Yochum. Growing bipartisan support, underscored by a bill introduced this week by NC Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Democrat from Matthews, is giving renewed strength to efforts to stop the Interstate 77 toll lane project.



Meanwhile, anti-toll forces gathered on the I-77 bridge at Exit 28 in Cornelius for a full-scale demonstration at rush hour this afternoon. One-hundred-fifty to 200 protesters waved signs on the bridge at 5:45 p.m., a solid visual for evening TV news.

Momentum around the anti-toll movement has never wavered since the first demonstration a year ago, despite a legal setback this past January when Judge Osmond Smith ruled that tolls on I-77 are not unconstitutional, a “win” for Cintra and NCDOT—which is clearly at odds with local legislators, local governing bodies and what looks like an overwhelming majority of ordinary citizens.

Indeed, a fast-paced fund-raising drive by WidenI77.org, the original and strongest anti-toll group, has been successful. They have decided to appeal Judge Smith’s decision.

Cotham introduced House Bill 950 this week, while Rep. Charles Jeter, a Republican from Huntersville, filed HB 954. They would cancel the contract with I-77 Mobility Partners, a subsidiary of the Spanish firm Cintra, which itself is a unit of Ferrovial, a Spanish construction conglomerate which has had its own share of ethics issues around the globe.



Kurt Naas, the Cornelius resident who founded WidenI77.org, said the two bills have at least 31 co-sponsors. It takes 61 votes to pass, “meaning we’re already halfway to what we need to pass in the House of Representatives.”

“Right now this is the best chance we’ve ever had to cancel this contract. Period,” Naas said in an exclusive interview with Cornelius Today and Business Today.

If the legislation passes, the WidenI77.org lawsuit would be rendered moot. Naas called on residents to contact their elected officials and urge them to support the two bills.

“We’re rallying in support of these bills,” Naas said.

Those who wish to demonstrate can park at the nearby mattress store and credit union just east of the I-77 bridge, as well as Holiday Lane.

The $660 million project, which adds toll lanes that right now cannot accommodate trucks, broke ground last year.

The NCDOT sped up its published timetable and signed a 50-year contract with Cintra in the face of mounting opposition. After another Cornelius resident, John V. “Mac” McAlpine organized a business summit explaining the problems inherent in the NCDOT plan, the business community also lined up against Cintra and the NCDOT.

The state agency has forged ahead with the plan, in spite of the fact that there was never an economic impact study, as first reported by Business Today.