Local officials and opponents of toll lanes on I-77 are continuing to battle it out this week over the N.C. DOT’s plans for widening the congested highway. A public forum on Friday at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce will include remarks by the leader of the anti-toll group Widen I-77 and the director of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, which previously has endorsed the DOT plan.
Meanwhile, a group claiming to represent more than 60 property owners in the Northcross area, off I-77 Exit 25, issued a statement condemning the plan last week. Later, one of its leaders acknowledged that the statement only represented the views of the group’s five-person board, not individual members.
Also this week, state officials have posted a new website at http://fix77now.blogspot.com/ offering background information and documents about the I-77 HOT lanes project.
FOCUS FRIDAY: I-77
The Lake Norman Chamber’s monthly Focus Friday issues session this week will examine plans for using High Occupancy Toll lanes, or HOT lanes, to help pay for widening I-77 north of Charlotte. The state’s plan also calls a public-private partnership, or P3, in which a private company would build and operate the lanes.
The meeting, sponsored by DavidsonNews.net and CorneliusNews.net, will be Friday, Feb. 22, from 8:30 to 10am, at the chamber conference room, 19900 W. Catawba Ave., Cornelius.
Speakers will include Bill Thunberg, executive eirector of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, and Kurt Naas who leads the group Widen I-77. Chamber chief Bill Russell said he also hopes to get a representative from the NC Department of Transportation to explain how the managed lanes and P3 arrangement would work.
NORTHCROSS MASTER ASSOCIATION OPPOSES TOLLS
Last week, the Northcross Master Association board of directors issued a statement opposing the DOT’s plans for toll lanes. The group said it represents more than 60 properties in an area of about 280 acres on either side of I-77 Exit 25 in Huntersville.
The group echoed what Widen I-77 has said, that it does not believe HOT lanes will solve congestion, that the project is too expensive, that it will damage the local economy and that the proposed public-private partnership will ensure a profit for a private company at the expense of the community.
The same group had previously fought against the DOT’s widening of N.C. 73 through the Exit 25 area, opposing plans for the “quad left” design that limits turns at U.S. 21 and seeking additional changes, according to board member Alex Kilgour.
“We got a few concessions, but they (NC DOT) were fairly dictatorial in what they were going to do. And we didn’t manage to get rid of that quad left,” Mr. Kilgour said.
He said the group realized that it needs to speak up in order to influence the process. “We want to cause a stink,” he said.
Just how much influence the group will have remains to be seen. The DOT has said it hopes to award a contract to a private company this summer for the I-77 HOT lanes project.
And it’s also not clear how much weight the group has to throw around. Although a press release last week said the association represents “over 60 properties,” Mr. Kilgour said the group held no membership meetings to discuss the question. He also said the statement is not intended to represent a consensus of its members, which include major companies such as Bank of America, BB&T, Target, restaurants, office complexes and other property owners.
He said the five board members discussed the issue by email before issuing the statement. “I can’t specifically say that every one of the 60-70 members is against this. This is the five board members,” he told us.
Besides Mr. Kilgour, other board members are John Lundsten, David Hinds, Jim Cruse, and Vince Winegardner. Mr. Winegardner, a Davidson resident, has been involved with the Widen I-77 group.
CorneliusNews.net and DavidsonNews.net are sponsors of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce’s Focus Friday series.
See past coverage of the DOT’s HOT lanes plan on DavidsonNews.net.