you're reading...

Cornelius News

Mercator toll lane report: Underwhelming


By Dave Vieser. One well-known toll lane opponent called it a “swing and a miss.” Another local official asked “where’s the beef?” Indeed, the reaction to the draft report from Mercator Advisors on the CINTRA I-77 toll lane contract was clearly not enthusiastic.

Most who digested the report felt there was a disappointing lack of specific cost estimates for the various options explored by the consultant.

“After reading the Mercator report, several questions remain unanswered” said NC Rep. Chaz Beasley (D-92). “It is crucial that our community takes the opportunity to comment on the report and push for more detail on how to eliminate this toll project.”

Mercator, based in Philadelphia, was hired in April by the DOT for $100,000 to review the contract and examine ways to improve or end the agreement. The contract calls for adding express toll lanes from Exit 36 in Iredell County southward through Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville into Charlotte with Cintra’s subsidiary I-77 Mobility Partners managing the project for 50 years.

The options examined by the report included:
• Cancelling the contract, and completing the express lanes using public funds or available financing.
• Terminate the agreement and let CRPTO (the Charlotte Regional Planning Transportation Organization) determine if express lanes should be retained in the improvements.
• Work with CRPTO to determine additional ways to improve mobility in the region.
• Develop plans to negotiate and finance the purchase of the express lane contract once it is completed.

The report did not offer specific cost estimates for any option other than cancellation, and even those were just approximate ranges. Mercator officials said that there were just too many assumptions required to generate even rough estimates for the cost of each option.
“The lack of more cost projections is a concern,” said Cornelius Commissioner Mike Miltich, who attends the monthly CRPTO meetings. “Sort of like a burger without beef.”

Kurt Naas, who has led much of the anti toll movement for a number of years, agreed. “I don’t know how anyone can make important policy decisions without some cost estimates.”

One area where the report didn’t mince words was the manner in which the project was handled by the DOT under former Gov. Pat McCrory. “The planning process did not provide sufficient opportunities for the public to evaluate the relative merits of express lanes and alternatives,” which served to undermine confidence in the project.

The report summary can be seen by accessing the following web site:

Comments and suggestions on the draft report will be accepted until September 9, at the web site I77feedback@ncdot.gov. A final version of the report will then be compiled and presented to the state Turnpike Authority, and eventually DOT Secretary Jim Trogdon. A final recommendation on any changes in the project will ultimately be made to CRPTO for their decision.

NC Rep. John Bradford (R-98) stated the sentiments of business and political leaders around Cornelius: “We should continue our quest to cancel the contract. Our region deserves General Purpose lanes and not managed lanes.”