A Mother’s Take on the Tolls
By Vallee Bubak
Volunteer for TollFreeNC/WidenI77
Since December I and other moms have been working day and night to stop the I-77 tolls. These are not the pocket-change tolls of yesteryear. These are tolls operated by a private and most likely foreign corporation for 50 plus years that will cost drivers anywhere from $5 to $28 dollars or more to travel one way between Charlotte to Mooresville.
In addition to moms like me worried about our children’s future and the impact on local businesses, real estate values, and more traffic on our neighborhood roads because of unaffordable and ill-planned tolls, men and women from various political backgrounds have come together to form and support the outreach efforts of TollFreeNC and WidenI-77. We have one mission: to inform the public about the proposed tolls for I-77 and North Carolina. Our volunteers are everyday people from Charlotte, Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Mooresville. They have given of their personal time as well as their personal financial resources to get the word out and inform their neighbors, co-workers and fellow citizens about the tolls.
As a mother, I am extremely disappointed in the elected leaders who could have spoken up against this exploitative plan — but didn’t. Instead, they relied on a so-called consultant who is in the tolling business, Parsons Brinckerhoff (www.PBworld.com), to recommend how best to widen I-77. What did we expect Parsons Brinckerhoff to come back with but a recommendation for tolls? Parsons Brinckerhoff has orchestrated the tolls like a high-paid wedding planner. For moms like me (as well as the fathers in our groups), the poor research and decision making of a number of elected officials have stolen from us precious time away from our families and kept us from volunteering in other ways for our community.
The good news is that we have numerous hard-working citizens who have stuck their necks out to do the right thing and speak up against an unfair, unwise and deceptive tolling scheme. It is not easy to go up against politicians, and especially those who have the support and resources of powerful political forces in the Lake Norman area.
A little over a week ago, the TollFreeNC group put up signs that both supported anti-toll candidates, and also signs that said Fire Bradford: He Supports Toll$ and Fire McAulay: She Supports Toll$. The volunteers of WidenI77 and TollFreeNC who produced the signs are everyday citizens and not political consultants. Their intention was not to offend, but to inform citizens about the toll issue and to identify the Town Commissioners running for re-election who had voted for the tolls. Also, TollFreeNC felt that McAulay’s actions toward the public at the May MUMPO meeting should be known. The video of that incident can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ot9f4bJilCk or via the website www.tollfreenc.org.
It has been reported that Commissioner Bradford of Cornelius was concerned about how he would explain the signs to his kids. I ask, how will we all answer to our kids and grandkids when they ask us who allowed 50 years of thousand-dollar tolls on I-77? For all of the mothers and fathers and concerned citizens who have spent countless hours away from our families and jobs to stop the tolls, isn’t that loss of time, money and energy more harmful than a truthful sign about an elected official who is expected to be held accountable to his electorate?
In response to the signs that said Fire Bradford: He Supports Toll$, Bradford came forward with 61 endorsements from other pro-toll politicians and his allies, and referred to us volunteers as “fringe group activists”. However, his 61 endorsements is a very small number compared with the approximately 3,500 petition signatures against the tolls and the more than 25,000 hits to the WidenI77.org website.
Upon hearing that some people were upset about the signs, we removed the signs in order to have time to check with other volunteers, citizens and business owners for their perspective. We also wanted to make sure that the conversation around the signs did not overshadow the topic of the tolls.
While some people felt that the signs were a bit harsh, the overwhelming majority of citizens and business owners felt that the positives of the signs outweighed the negatives. So the signs have gone back up. Are the signs harsh? For some, yes. Are they truthful? Yes. Do I wish that our months and months of polite and kind requests were effective in getting elected officials to represent the will of their constituents? Yes. Have Bradford and McAulay listened to their constituents’ kind requests? No.
It is crucial that we have proper representation and elect Town Commissioners who will stop a plan that benefits a foreign tolling corporation at the expense of the public for the next 50 years. One of the unintended consequences of the signs is that they showed us which of the candidates would have the courage to continue to fight the tolls even when under pressure from the area political power players. As has been the case before, opponents of tolls often come under fire from a few Raleigh legislators and their allies to “NOT” voice opposition to the toll plans. The tolls have become a litmus test for elected officials by revealing to the public who will have the courage to speak up for their constituents.
While as a mother I am frustrated and hurt by the selfish and self-serving actions of some elected officials that I had previously trusted, I am encouraged to see numerous other mothers and fathers working together to stop a catastrophic plan that will impact our children for decades. I encourage each person to take the time to visit the website www.tollfreenc.org and our Facebook pages: TollFreeNC and WidenI77 to learn more about the tolls and the candidates, and to vote this November 5.