Toll lanes foe wants voters to decide
By Dale Gowing | Thursday, July 10, 2014
Insisting that the public doesn’t want toll lanes on I-77 or any other North Carolina interstates, N.C. Rep. Robert Brawley of Mooresville is hoping to convince the General Assembly to let voters decide the issue.
Brawley, a Republican, has introduced legislation calling for a statewide November ballot referendum about toll roads and dedicated toll lanes. House bill 1274, if passed, would require the N.C. Department of Transportation to suspend its planning for building high-occupancy toll lanes on I-77 at least until the referendum.
The bill seeks a referendum that would ask N.C. voters to vote for or against this statement: "No new toll or fee shall be imposed nor any existing toll increased for the use of any North Carolina road or highway."
Explained Brawley, one of Raleigh’s biggest critics of tolling, “It is time we actually let the people be heard, so I am asking the General Assembly to put toll roads on the ballot this fall.
“If the public and other legislators get behind it, (a referendum) could happen. If we do not there will be toll roads and big losses for Republicans this fall.”
The General Assembly has until the third week of August to add or delete items from statewide ballots.
Brawley’s bill was introduced July 3 and is currently resting with the House Ways and Means Committee. “I’m sure there will be talk about how (this referendum) cannot be done, but the majority of people in our area are strongly against toll roads and they want to be heard,” he told the Tribune in an email Thursday.
“So I ask my fellow legislators for their support in giving the citizens of North Carolina a chance to be heard."
In earlier emailed comments to media outlets Thursday, Brawley included a letter from a Lake Norman-area resident to N.C. Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius, who supports allowing DOT to move ahead with plans for building toll lanes on I-77 between Mooresville and Charlotte.
“It is beyond me to imagine how any of our representatives -- including mayors, commissioners, Rep. Tillis, Rep. Jeter and yourself -- think this is good for our area,” the resident said in her letter.
“You told me over a year ago … that the tolls would capture the north-to-south traffic that is avoiding the high NC gas tax. As I and many others see it, the ‘lake area’ will be negatively impacted.
“Everyone says cavalierly that (motorists) have the option to pay. As I see the ingresses and egresses I have no option ‘to’ pay. If it is in fact being done to collect from a larger market, then widen the area between (exits) 23 and 30 and let us enjoy our beautiful area and quality of life.
“There are some of us who still have to get to the grocery, kids to school, doctors, hospital, etc. How hubris of the DOT to say that ‘soccer moms’ will be willing to pay! We (and there are many of us) are still looking toward a different outcome.”
Tall lane foes want the state to widen I-77 with general purpose lanes instead of toll lanes between Mooresville and Charlotte.
DOT maintains there would be no funding for general purpose lanes for at least 20 years, while building toll lanes would be done cheaper and sooner – likely starting in 2015 -- through a public-private partnership. Building the toll lanes would convert existing carpool lanes, and would be free for cars with three or more passengers, emergency vehicles, buses and motorcycles.
The state expects to finalize its agreement by the end of the month with the Spanish company Cintra Infrastructures to build and operate the toll lanes. North Carolina would contribute $88 million toward the $655 million project, with Cintra receiving all toll money.
Foes of HOT lanes argue that the lanes will do little to relieve congestion on the interstate and could ultimately cost the state millions if the private contractor defaults or toll revenues don’t meet a certain level. One anti-toll lanes group, called Widen I-77, argues that the state has sufficient funds now to build more general purpose lanes.
In late June, Tarte said he would ask NCDOT for a review of the Cintra contract but doesn’t expect that to delay the project.
Republican Sen. David Curtis of Denver, who represents southern Iredell, has said he likes the idea of a DOT review of the Cintra contract but doesn’t wish to see the project delayed too long.
“We can’t wait 20 years,” Curtis said in late June. “Traffic on I-77 is getting worse and worse, and in five, ten or 15 years it’s going to be a nightmare. We’ve got to do something now. I realize a lot of people are very upset and just want three (general purpose) lanes now, but there’s just no money for that.”
The anti-toll roads group Widen I-77 will hold a public meeting July 24 in Cornelius, where members will discuss the project and answer questions. It’s a 7 p.m. at Cornelius Town Hall.