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Cornelius News

Judge Smith rules against anti-toll group; battle moves to CRTPO


Jan. 8. By Dave Yochum. Judge Osmond Smith has ruled in favor of I-77 Mobility Partners and NCDOT in the WidenI-77 lawsuit. Saying it is a policy decision from the legislature, and that tolls on I-77 are not unconstitutional, the judge said different people may have different views about the project.

It means the matter will be decided by the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization at its Jan. 20 meeting, if not the state legislature—and even the governor—at some point.

The Charlotte City Council will meet Jan. 11, and direct Councilwoman Vi Liles’ vote.

Referring to pro-toll elected officials, County Commissioner Pat Cotham said “they might have won the battle, but they didn’t win the war.”

The court system, she said, is part of the process. “In my mind the governor is shirking his duty,” she said. The Lake Norman business community, through the Lake Norman Chamber, has come out solidly against this particular toll plan.

“This isn’t a loss. It is affirmation that the governor is the one who needs to make the decision to cancel the contract,” said John “Mac” McAlpine V, the organizer of what turned out to be a cataclysmic informational business meeting—the I-77 Call to Action—at Michael Waltrip Raceworld last spring. The meeting resulted in the birth of the I-77 Business Plan, a who’s who of business and political leaders that meets every Tuesday afternoon at the chamber offices on West Catawba.

Gov. McCrory has charged the CRTPO with making the decision on the toll plan, which means the Charlotte City Council is in the driver’s seat. Indeed, Charlotte, through Liles, controls 46 percent of the vote.

“The City Council is getting into this late in the game, and the learning curve is enormous, so I worry about that,” Cotham said.

“Plus they’ve only heard one side of the argument. This is a very complicated issue,” Cotham said.

NC Rep. Charles Jeter along with Rep. John Bradford, Sen. Jeff Tarte and a number of others—Democrat and Republican alike—have authored a letter asking for the Charlotte City Council to direct Liles to request NCDOT to cancel the $650 million project at the next CRTPO meeting.

“This project has generated a lot of anger and concern in our business community and our neighborhoods. It is time to officially request that NCDOT cancel this project and not take billions of dollars out of our community over the next 50 years,” said Jeter. “Gov. McCrory has asked CRTPO to weigh in on the discussion and we strongly believe that the correct thing to do is to have CRTPO request a cancellation of the contract. Once that is done, under NC General Statute 136- 66.2(d) the decision will go back to Gov. McCrory and the NCDOT for final action.”

In the letter, the legislators made it clear that this is not a referendum on managed lanes or the region’s current transportation plan.

“It is a request to cancel what is almost universally agreed to as a bad contract. The legislators submitted North Carolina and Federal Statutes in the letter to ensure that the City Council is aware that CRTPO clearly has the legal right to request a cancellation of this contract and not be forced to vote on any other items,” Jeter said.