Summit held to discuss controversial I-77 toll lane project

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Even though construction has already started for the toll lane project along I-77, the debate on whether it belongs there is far from over.

Elected officials, NCDOT representatives and community members gathered in Cornelius Monday morning for a summit. It was held at the Town Hall building.

The summit was originally planned by Representative Charles Jeter. He said he called the meeting to separate fact from fiction. He wanted to bring everyone together to discuss other options.

The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce is criticizing the controversial I-77 toll lane project requesting it be terminated.

“We got one chance to get this right. We can’t undo it. We are passionate, because this will define our community,” Jim Puckett with the Lake Norman Chamber said.

NCDOT representatives defend the project saying it’s meant to relieve traffic congestion.

Transportation secretary Nick Tennyson answered the biggestion question. How realistic is it to cancel the project as a whole?

“Ultimately, there has to be a plan to follow. It can’t just be delete this. And then what? We have to have a plan for the region.”

Senator Jeff Tarte says he originally supported the project when he was mayor of Cornelius. But now that new information has been provided, he doesn’t think toll lanes are the right fit for the Lake Norman area.

“People saying are we flip flopping on the issue. I was supporting tolls. I was the mayor in 2008 when this started. We were told do nothing or get managed lanes,” Tarte said.

Tarte also mentioned the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization could potentially revise the plan if they chose to.

We spoke to one man at the meeting who has lived in Lake Norman since the 1970’s. Neal Howes says he’s now selling his house because of traffic problems and the toll lane project.

“I thought this was going to be my home until the day I die. But unfortunately now, you can’t just get around this area,” Howes said.

It will take three years to complete the project and NCDOT has signed a 50-year contract with Cintra to operate the toll lanes.

Every agrees that additional lanes are needed along I-77. But the question is, whether people should pay to get on them or not.

NCDOT secretary Nick Tennyson says the meeting wasn’t as productive as he hoped because there was a lot of emotion involved.

“It’s really easy to be passionate when you’re speaking out on the side of stopping something,” Tennyson said.

A group called "Widen Interstate 77" sued Mecklenburg county, saying the new lanes should not include a toll.

Officials say it would cost the state about $100 million to cancel the project.