State of the toll lanes

We’re at the six month point in our effort to widen I-77 with general purpose lanes and I thought it would be a good time to take stock.

The Good

When I wrote my open letter last Fall, I wondered if I was the only one opposed to toll lanes.  This project was cruising along on autopilot.  No one- not the media, the public and certainly the politicians- were asking any questions. With the help of some really, really dedicated volunteers, I’m amazed at what we’ve accomplished in a few short months.

On the political front, in January the Cornelius Transportation Advisory Board passed a resolution requesting the Town Board study general purpose lane alternatives.  The Board followed that up with a resolution requesting the Lake Norman Transportation Commission study GP alternatives.

Iredell County commissioners voted toll lanes out of their transportation plan.  The Mecklenburg GOP passed a resolution- unanimously and without debate- opposing toll lanes. The Cabarrus GOP did the same just last week.  The Mecklenburg Tea Party passed a resolution opposing toll lanes and are actively supporting our cause.

On the community front, over 1,200 of you signed a petition opposing toll lanes.  That’s all the more amazing when you consider we did this over a three week period with no formal petition drive. Between FB and this blog, we have hundreds of followers.  Our blog has ~13,000 hits.  Over 100 fellow residents showed up on a rainy Monday night in January to hear what we had to say, and 70+ showed up in the middle of Spring Break to hear our follow up (Thanks!).

The media coverage has been substantial, with every TV and print outlet covering the story to varying degrees. The Mooresville Tribune editorialized in opposition to toll lanes. What was an obscure issue is now front & center, as a project of this importance should be.

So where do we stand?

I’ve had a number of folks ask me if we get discouraged by all this David-Goliath stuff. Far from it.  The widen i-77 folks find the debate, the support and our progress energizing.

On May 22nd, MUMPO is scheduled to vote the HOT lanes into their Long Range Plan (LRTP).  With their Charlotte-heavy voting system, I would be pleasantly shocked if it didn’t pass.

Is that the end? Nope.  Not at all.  If they amended the plan to put HOT lanes in, it can be amended to take them out.

How would they do this? Overwhelming public opposition is one way, and you can help.  If you haven’t signed the on-line petition, you can do that here.  (Only if you haven’t signed a written one, of course.) And speaking of petitions, how about if you download the form and have your friends/neighbors sign it?  Seriously.  We’ve received forms from local businesses, softball leagues, Sunday school classes and shopping malls. Just email us and we’ll arrange to pick it up.

Now for the downside and challenges.

The Bad

  • Local politicians.
    Despite the fiscal and operational logic supporting a GP lane solution, with few exceptions (Dave Gilroy (Cornelius), Danny Phillips and until recently, Ron Julian (Huntersville)) our local elected officials have been largely silent or supportive of toll lanes (Chuck Travis (Cornelius), Brian Jenest (Davidson)).
  • Endless repetition of “terminological inexactitudes.”
    Ever since Widen I-77 demonstrated the shortfalls of the toll lane plan and a path forward for GP lanes, many toll lane advocates have resorted to unsubstantiated one-liners:
  • “It’s toll lanes or nothing for 20 years.”
  • “If we widen I-77 with general purpose lanes it will just become congested again in a few years.”
  • “This is a done deal.”
  • “It’s a state decision.” “It’s a local decision.”

If you hear an elected official spout those clichés, you know you’re listening to an uninformed opinion.

  • The Lake Norman Transportation Commission.
    They have been utterly unhelpful in exploring GP alternatives despite their self-stated mission to “give high priority to needed road, interstate and commuter rail improvements.” One out of three?  We should demand better.
  • Davidson.
    Of all the municipalities affected by toll lanes, Davidson stands to suffer the most.  Davidson has the only main street that actually functions like Main Street. Unfortunately, Main Street is also the only alternative to I-77.  Because the toll lanes will remain “congestion free”, drivers unwilling or unable to afford the tolls are going to seek alternate routes. The only logical choice is, well, Main Street, Davidson.  Which means Davidson can look forward to an ever-worsening traffic nightmare on their cherished main street for the next 50 years. So, my Davidsonian friends, why are your mayor and Town Board counted among the most ardent toll lane supporters?

(One must always ask: if a politician is not acting for his/her constituents’ best interests, is he acting for his own?)

  • Thom Tillis.
    When I correspond with politicians, if they don’t outright agree with me, most will offer to study the issue. Not so with Speaker Tillis.  At best you could say he’s resorting to one liners (see above), but in reality he has been adversarial from Day One.  That’s doubly frustrating because never before have we elected a more influential politician. It’s no secret he plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014, and it appears he’s perfectly willing to make his constituents a campaign casualty.

The Ugly

Things were at their ugliest when politicians abused their positions of power to silence dialogue. A couple of meetings really stand out.

  • After weeks of trying, we finally finagled what we thought was a private meeting between constituent and our legislator, the aforementioned Thom Tillis.  Mr. Speaker thought otherwise and turned it into a hand-picked media circus.  Even though widening I-77 was the topic of the meeting, he never did bother to introduce himself or shake hands.
  • In the same mode, MUMPO Chairwoman Sarah MacAulay gave us ten minutes to present our case. Despite some serious lobbying for more time by other MUMPO members, she wouldn’t budge.  Worse, she discourteously cut me off mid-sentence. That’s not the Southern Way, is it?  What makes it more galling is she managed to find an hour for MUMPO members to listen to (yet another) paid consultant prattle on about the results of a year-old survey. Not surprisingly, it was favorable to HOT lanes.

In Conclusion

We’ve done a lot but the opposition has solidified and we have a lot of work to do.  We’re not going away. Together we can get there.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks your help.

One Response to State of the toll lanes

  1. Don R says:

    Keep up the good fight, Kurt and everyone involved! Readers, get more petitions out there for the public to sign. If there are any attorney types in the crusade against toll lanes, consider an injunction on the grounds that the tolls are not serving the greater need of the public and that the politicians behind this have shirked their responsibility to the citizenship. The citizens must have time to be heard on matters that deal with how our money is spent. Also, we need to make clear to politicians like Tillis and other like him that the political scene is changing and a solid grassroots campaign can easily knock the high and mighty from their respective perch! We can and will band together to fight for the justice that we feel they are not providing us.

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