I-77 toll lane furor igniting GOP family feud in Charlotte area

laughHere we have a recent radio interview with our, um, “Republican” governor explaining how we need to pay more in gas tax and get to like paying tolls if we want better roads in North Carolina.  (I did not hear ONE word about fiscal restraint or putting a halt to robbing various highway accounts in the budget. But that’s another story.) 

Some key takeaways from that interview:

  • The host asks McCrory why the state is widening I-85 in Rowan County without tolls, but is using tolls to finance the widening of I-77 in Mecklenburg County.  McCrory describes the I-85 project as addressing a “choke point.”  He also says it is “permit-ready.”
  • The host asks McCrory why the state just doesn’t widen I-77 itself and run the tolls itself, instead of giving a 50 year contract to a foreign company with a spotty track record.    McCrory said that his administration, and that of his predecessor “Boss Bev”, recognized that our state did not have the “expertise” to do that.  Incredulous, the host asked the governor for clarification about the state not being competent enough to operate a toll.  McCrory brushed that question off with something about a need for “special financing” that Tony Tata could come in and explain later. 

Then, we have Mecklenburg County commissioner Jim Puckett’s letter to the Charlotte Observer: 

Governor McCrory, I write on behalf of our shared constituents. You inherited a broken transportation funding structure. To your credit, you have brought sanity to the process but in the interim, the widening of I-77 is caught between the foolishness of the old and the wisdom of the new.

Punishing the citizens of north Mecklenburg and Iredell County for simply finding their project caught at the wrong puckettplace at the wrong time is unfair, unwise and irresponsible. For 25 years, our citizens have dutifully paid their gas taxes and fees with the natural assumption their compliance would result in fair compensation.

Widening I-77 is not a new project, not a recent need resulting from changing demographics but the next phase of plans laid out in 1995. Now we are told tolls are the only funding source for what is fundamentally the fulfillment of a promise to provide basic infrastructure. If in fact tolls were the only source, this would be tragic. That you have identified bonding capacity and not included widening I-77 in your proposed Connect NC takes it beyond tragic and drops it solidly in the category of insulting.

We have heard the reasons given for not funding general-purpose lanes and can only assume you have been misled by those with little understanding of the nature and needs of the region. As someone elected five times to represent this area, I want to communicate the facts and expectations.

The business community is overwhelmingly rejecting this plan, not based on the tolls but on the economic disaster that the limited access of current populations and the guaranteed gridlock on professional trucking and distribution the design promises.

While your representatives prophesize that a reversal of this contract would send the wrong message to those seeking future private public partnerships, the double taxation of gas taxes and tolls sends the clear undeniable message to our constituents that they cannot trust commitments made by those who govern them.

 With I-95 removed from the projected toll list and Highway 64 (a new $220 million project) in Asheboro proposed without tolls, the citizens of north Mecklenburg and Iredell see clearly that the same political favoritism used by your predecessor has re-entered thpayupe process.

Governor, I know you to be a man of integrity and resourcefulness. Your proposed bond package, Connect NC, is targeted at rural roads that fell through the cracks and remain unfunded under your new allocation process. I respectfully ask that general-purpose lanes on I-77 be placed in this package to fund a commitment made, yet unmet under the same process.

Pat, you once famously suggested folks not put their stupid hat on. I respectfully ask you sir to take your stupid hat off. You have successfully provided new tools for road expansion. Use those tools. Do what you went to Raleigh to do, bring logic to challenges and return responsibility to leadership.

Folks, THAT is coming from a Republican!

We also have THIS from former state Rep. Robert Brawley (R) who, until 2014, represented Iredell County in the General Assembly.  Brawley shares a story about a visit to Turkey where a frustrated local official bemoaned the corruption that comes along with public-private partnerships (like the I-77 project).