you're reading...


I-77 battle focuses on Charlotte City Council; intense lobbying under way; Widen I-77 will announce ‘stay’ at 2 pm


Jan. 6. By Dave Yochum. The Widen I-77 anti-toll group will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. at Cornelius Town Hall to announce that it has filed a motion in court to stay the lawsuit against the NCDOT/Cintra toll project.

The stay, if granted, would put a temporary pause on the legal proceedings, including the hearing scheduled for Friday. The group, according to Widen I-77 founder Kurt Naas, remains confident in the legal aspects of their case.

Bill Russell, CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is actively working the political side of a complex equation that includes local and state government as well as the Charlotte City Council.

The Charlotte City Council will “direct” Councilwoman Vi Liles’ vote on the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, which, at this point, holds all the cards around the fate of the toll plan.

CRTPO is scheduled to vote Jan. 20. Oddly enough, Charlotte, through Vi Liles, has 46 percent of the vote on a regional organization. Gov. Pat McCrory has written the CRTPO, telling the regional transportation group that they must vote up or down on the toll plan.

Woody Washam, the top vote-getter on the Cornelius Town Board, is also a member of the CRTPO.

“The lobbying effort to convince Charlotte City Council to vote no against tolls is in extreme high gear.  The City Council’s vote to direct Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles vote at CRTPO is crucial and will likely dictate the outcome of that vote on Jan. 20th.  The vote will be close and time is of essence,” Washam said.

Meanwhile, Michelle Ferlauto, an anti-toll activist, has quickly raised more than $6,600 to fund print ads in the Charlotte Observer and the Charlotte Post, an African-America newspaper. The effort is to sway members of the Charlotte City Council.

The anti-toll forces say they have five out of 11 votes lined up.

“The governor’s recent letter has created an entirely new layer of confusion and political debate on the issue,” Naas said. “In light of the governor’s letter and two upcoming votes resulting from that letter, we felt it appropriate for the political debate to run its course before resorting to litigation.”

In his letter to the Charlotte Regional Transportation Organization, McCrory asked members to re-affirm the “regional strategy for managed lanes.”

With Charlotte’s 46 percent weighted vote, it determines the outcome. The Charlotte City Council in its entirety will take up the matter Jan. 11.

Since the group filed suit last January against the NCDOT, Cintra and the State of North Carolina, it has consistently maintained it pursued litigation as a last resort.

The political landscape has changed considerably in the past year. Virtually every Lake Norman town as well as Mecklenburg and Iredell counties have passed resolutions opposing the project.

Despite all that, the NCDOT has forged ahead with the 50-year, $650 million deal with Cintra, a company whose roots are in Spain.

Elected officials at the state level, including local legislators John Bradford and Jeff Tarte, have come out in opposition. The I-77 toll controversy led to a major shakeup of the Huntersville town board in last November’s elections.

“We are looking to our elected representatives to carry this fight for us,” added Naas. “If CRTPO instead re-affirms the most reviled transportation project in state history, we will immediately move to lift the stay.”