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Cornelius News

Renegade mayor: Travis lobbies for tolls in Raleigh; Commissioners call his comments ‘inaccurate’


June 9. By Dave Yochum. In defiance of the Cornelius Town Board, Mayor Chuck Travis has met with NC Sen. Philip Berger in Raleigh to argue in favor of the Public Private Partnership that is building toll lanes between Lake Norman and Charlotte.

Travis, who lobbied against HB-954—the anti-toll legislation that passed overwhelmingly in the NC House June 2—met with the leader of the Senate in lockstep with Mayor John Woods of Davidson, according to other legislators who were in the room. Meanwhile, Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla says he was excluded from the meeting. Aneralla, along with his Town Board, have lined up against the $650 million toll project.

“Mayor Travis argued very strongly for toll lanes and against 954. He said the anti-toll people don’t understand cancelling the tolls…if the toll is cancelled they will regret it…that there is not opposition to the tolls, and they have been intimidated by the anti-toll people.”

NC Sen. David Curtis, Lincoln County

NC Sen. David Curtis of Lincoln County attended the meeting and said he was aghast at Travis’ actions.

“Mayor Travis argued very strongly for toll lanes and against 954. He said the anti-toll people don’t understand cancelling the tolls…if the toll is cancelled they will regret it…that there is not opposition to the tolls, and they have been intimidated by the anti-toll people,” Curtis, a fellow Republican, said.

Travis did not respond to requests for comment from Business Today and Cornelius Today. Woods also did not respond.

“I’m pretty comfortable saying what Travis and Woods said is not correct,” Curtis said. “There is indeed widespread opposition; the city councils do understand the consequences. The plan is so bad they want this contract cancelled.”

Curtis said Travis’ actions were a huge setback for passing HB-954. According to the NCDOT website, Travis was appointed to the N.C. Board of Transportation by then Speaker of the House Thom Tillis in August 2014.

The Cornelius Town Board in essence censured Mayor Travis back in December when they unanimously passed a resolution that stated “any opinions expressed or actions taken by Mayor Travis, in the past or the future, which are counter to this resolution reflect his personal views and are in opposition to this Town Board, the community we represent, and the Town of Cornelius.” Commissioner Dave Gilroy offered the resolution; it was seconded by Mike Miltich.

Gilroy reacted this way after hearing of Travis’ actions from a Business Today and Cornelius Today reporter: “I’ve been informed that Chuck Travis, unknown to our Cornelius Town Board, met with NC Senate leadership and several NC Senators yesterday in Raleigh ‘to aggressively advocate’ for tolls on I-77. We are all shocked and deeply disturbed. Countless citizens, community leaders, and regional elected officials are working tirelessly to support HB954…to terminate the Cintra contract. We are on the 5-yard line potentially after many years of intensive grass-roots efforts. For Travis to compromise all of that at this utterly critical moment is a hard punch in the gut to Cornelius citizens and reprehensible.

Huntersville Mayor Aneralla said he found out about the meeting with Berger by accident, called Travis about it and Travis did not return his phone call.

“I didn’t know about it,” said Aneralla, who easily defeated the pro-toll incumbent, Jill Swain, last November.

Speaking for Huntersville electeds as well as what appears to be a groundswell of public opinion, Aneralla said, “we are overwhelmingly in support of canceling that road contract.”

He said it was “disappointing that two of the northern mayors would take it upon themselves to undermine” not just months of effort, but years of efforts to stop a 50-year deal with a Spanish company whose units and divisions around the world have been called out for questionable practices, principally involved in the infrastructure projects.

“Whatever short-term pain is, it is worth it not to beholden to a terrible 50-year contract,” Aneralla said.

“Whatever short-term pain is, it is worth it not to beholden to a terrible 50-year contract.”

– Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla

Members of the business community also expressed concern. Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce leader Bill Russell simply said, “Wow.”

“When you have a town board that has unaimously issued four resolutions…and this is ground zero for the anti toll movement, wow,” Russell said.

Travis ran unopposed for a second term as mayor last year. But John “Mac” McAlpine, the Cornelius resident who organized the I-77 Call to Action one year ago at Michael Waltrip Raceworld, said he discussed Travis’ position on the tolls prior to election filing last year, and was satisfied with the mayor’s answers. No one on the anti-toll side opted to run against Travis.

There have subsequently been demonstrations on the I-77 bridge, a variety of anti-toll resolutions passed by a variety of governments but Travis has steadfastly continued to quietly support the toll plan—it was once believed to be the only way to widen I-77 anytime soon—at a high level. But this time it was directly with the president of the NC Senate, Berger, who controls the ebb and flow of legislative decisions in the Capitol.

Cornelius Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam, a long-time Lake Norman banker and volunteer member of chambers, economic development board and convention bureaus, said the following in a written statement to Business Today and Cornelius Today:

“Based on what I have been told about mayors Travis and Woods’ meeting with Sen. Berger in Raleigh, information was presented that was inaccurate and absolutely does not represent the Cornelius Town Board and the large majority of citizens in Cornelius.”

Gilroy said Mayor Travis is a lame duck who is “in direct opposition to…perhaps as many as 95 percent” of the general population. Travis is among the fortunate few who would benefit mightily from toll lanes—sometimes called Lexus Lanes—between Charlotte and Lake Norman.

Travis, an owner of a highly successful architectural firm headquartered in Charlotte, commutes to and from Cornelius on I-77. Property records show he and his wife own a house on Mollypop Lane assessed at $1.43 million.

“While he is undoubtedly a lame duck mayor who will be thrown out of office next year, it is hard to believe that Travis has any remaining credibility or legitimacy as he serves out his remaining term,” Gilroy said.

Here is the question Business Today and Cornelius Today sent Mayor Travis at noon today:

Mayor Travis: Please respond to on-the-record comments from Cornelius town commissioners, business leaders, Mayor Aneralla, as well as Sens. Tarte and Curtis expressing outrage about your in-person meeting with Sen Berger to argue against HB954, in light of the virtual censure the Cornelius Town Board unanimously passed in December as well as in opposition to prior votes by the board, and the Mecklenburg County Board. Why do you feel your actions are appropriate? Thank you.

We will report his response as soon as it is received.