I-77 toll opponents get another day in court

Trying to stop a privatized monster:

The North Carolina Court of Appeals is considering the effort of a group opposed to the toll lanes which prefers that additional regular traffic lanes be built. A judge in Charlotte last year rejected the challenge by the group Widen I-77. Wednesday's arguments came in the group's appeal of the rejection.

Widen I-77 attorney Matt Arnold says the group thinks North Carolina lawmakers were wrong to allow a private company to build the toll lanes. Arnold also says the company should not have sole authority to set the rates if the lanes are allowed.

Both the process leading to the contract and the company chosen to fulfill it have been a model of how *not* to do the public's business, and I encourage Roy Cooper and his administration to take a long, hard look at this thing before dismissing concerns raised. I do have a personal stake in this, as my daughter lives right along the I-77 Corridor, and is forced to use it going to and from work most days. I say "forced" because many of the communities in the Lake Norman area don't have a well-connected road system to use as an option to the Interstate, and the stunning growth in this area has turned traffic into a huge problem. Which may be one (big) reason the toll company Cintra signed the contract in the first place, because they knew locals would be forced to pay, and not leave the company counting pennies and filing bankruptcy:

While SH 130 is completely tolled, the three North Texas projects feature managed toll lanes running alongside rebuilt tax-funded lanes. The state contributed some funds to the North Texas projects, but was not financially involved in SH 130.

"We have all the risk," Hinkle said.

Traffic on the 41-mile stretch of SH 130 south of Austin has been far less than what was initially expected even though the corridor offers 85 mph speed limits -- the highest in the nation. Company officials blamed the lower traffic figures on the fact that the road opened during the recession. They also said that traffic in 2015 increased 15 percent compared to 2014 usage.

Hinkle said Cintra still expects toll revenues to eventually pay off the company's debt, the firm just needs to restructure.

I understand the challenge of financing road construction, in an era when vehicles are much more efficient and the gas tax is becoming less and less sufficient for that task. But toll roads aren't the answer, especially not when you allow the private company to dictate its own rate scheme. This project should have never gotten past the rough draft phase, but it's not too late to shut it down.

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