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Cornelius News

The tide turned against tolls in NC House after months of work


June 2Analysis. By Sam Boykin. NC Rep. John Bradford was elated after today’s 80-26 vote in support of a bill he and Rep. Charles Jeter presented to terminate the I-77 toll lane agreement with Cintra, the Spanish company in charge of the controversial project.

“This really shows overwhelming support,” Bradford said after the vote. “Rep. Jeter and I had a lot of support with this bill, and a lot of work led up to today. This is a victory, but we still have work to do.”

It amounts to Lake Norman history in the making. A virtual citizen uprising that started with a lark called “Exit 28 Ridiculousness” on Facebook, helped bring ordinary citizens together in opposition to the NCDOT plan. When John “Mac” McAlpine, organized the “I-77 Call to Action” at the old Michael Waltrip Raceworld for Lake Norman business leaders one year ago, a broad-based movement began.

North Carolina state representatives agree the stretch of I-77 from uptown Charlotte to Lake Norman continues to create major headaches for commuters.

While the widening project goes all the way into Charlotte, Bradford said that the real congestion starts at exit 23 heading north. Extending lanes to Charlotte is not necessary and carries an additional financial burden, he said.

Rep. Tricia Ann Cotham, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, states the current project is a bad deal for Lake Norman. “Only 5 percent of the traffic congestion will be relieved with toll project. Both Democrats and Republicans are outraged. We need to cancel this project.”

Cabarrus Rep. Larry Pittman said that the contract sends millions of dollars to a “foreign company that has shown to be highly suspect.” Indeed, Cintra’s parent company, Ferrovial in Spain, has had its share of ethics issues around the globe.

“This is a very bad deal we shouldn’t have gotten into in the first place. I see this as a camel’s nose under the tent. This could be the first of many bade deals to come,” Pittman said.

Rep. Charles Jeter also pointed out that the current deal with Cintra levies steep penalties against the the state if it builds additional general purpose lanes in the next 50 years. “This project is inherently flawed,” he said. “Revenue generated from tolls would not be reinvested into the community. The vast majority is taken out of Charlotte.”

A few expressed concerns about the hefty fines the state would face if it cancelled the deal with Cintra. A representative from Gaston County, one of the few dissenting voices, said that the state needs to come up with “new innovative remedies and solutions to the congestion issue” before dismissing the toll lane project. He stressed that relying solely on the NCDOT to complete the project would likely take decades and cost at least twice as much.