The battle over pay-to-drive toll lanes in Mecklenburg County has taken to cyberspace. A few weeks back, anti-toll activists with widen i77 went to Raleigh seeking help from house Speaker (and local legislator) Thom Tillis in stopping the installation of special toll lanes on Interstate 77 — a widely used thoroughfare for Mecklenburg residents. Instead of an audience with Speaker Thom, the group was ambushed with a press conference / propaganda session by pro-toll interests. Widen I-77 thought they would have an ally in Tillis, who — a year ago — had opposed the installation of tolls on I-95.
Tillis finally spoke up and told Widen I-77 that the final say over tolls lies with the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization (MUMPO), a regional transportation and planning authority composed of area government officials. So, Widen I-77 reps are attempting to plead their case to MUMPO, but appear to be getting the cold shoulder. Hence, you have these email exchanges. Let’s start with Widen I-77 rep Sharon Hudson writing to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission (and MUMPO) official Bob Cook:
As we discussed this past Tuesday, April 9, WidenI77.org would like to reserve thirty minutes on the agenda for the upcoming MUMPO meeting on Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
I previously requested this in writing and verbally during the citizen comment period at the MUMPO meeting last month. I have attached that request for you to review.
I understand from our phone conversation on Tuesday that you and Commissioner McAulay would like to limit us to 10 minutes during the citizen comment period, plus five minutes for Q. and A. Unfortunately due to the nature of our presentation that is not satisfactory. Ms. McAulay has seen Kurt Naas’s presentation before at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, and so she will understand that it is not possible for us to present our case in the time you have offered.
Mr. Cook, adding HOT lanes to I-77 is one of the most important decisions impacting our region since Lake Norman was created. It will affect us for generations to come. Surely giving us thirty minutes on the agenda when compared to a fifty year contract is not asking too much?
As I stated at the February MUMPO meeting, if members of the MUMPO board have not seen Mr. Naas’s presentation, and most of them have not, then they have only heard the sales pitch from HOT lane proponents. They have not heard a citizen’s point of view.
Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for N.C. Speaker Thom Tillis, said recently that, “Speaker Tillis is supportive of the conversation that this has started because it’s an important issue.” Let’s have a conversation. So far it has been a Monologue.
Speaker Tillis has also stated that the decision regarding HOT lanes rests with MUMPO, and not with the General Assembly. That means that all MUMPO representatives, and all of the town and city boards who direct the votes for those representatives, will be held accountable for approving what will be a terribly unpopular decision. If I were them I would insist on hearing all pertinent information available before casting a vote in favor of HOT lanes.
Here is a link to the “Myths and Facts” section of our web site, wideni77.org. You will not hear any of this from the presentations by consultants and other boards paid to sell the HOT lane plan. Also note the section on “Elected Officials” We will be keeping track of those who support HOT lanes.
Here is another link to a story which appeared today in the Charlotte Observer. Other organizations have noted that WidenI77.org has not been allowed to present our side of the issue at any of the town sponsored forums. If the current plan is so great, what are you afraid of?
Mr. Cook, I am respectfully asking again that Kurt Naas and widenI77.org be permitted to give a thirty minute presentation at the April 17 MUMPO meeting. The vote on HOT lanes is scheduled to take place shortly after that in all of the towns, and is scheduled to be voted on with directed votes during the May MUMPO meeting. This is our last chance to present to the board before these deadlines.
I am also copying in the boards involved. My hope is that they will contact you and Commissioner McAulay and ask that wideni77.org be allowed the full thirty minutes on the April 17th meeting agenda.
Take this missive from Stallings mayor Lynda Paxton to MUMPO board member and Huntersville mayor pro tem Sarah McAulay:
I agree with Ms. Hudson that it is important for us to hear all sides of these issues. Over the past 7 years that I’ve served on the MUMPO board, we have heard update after update from Jennifer Harris and Reid Simons about the Monroe Bypass, but MUMPO has never heard a word about the Stantec Study describing alternatives for Highway 74 that would improve the level of service to acceptable levels for every intersection in the corridor (except one) for approximately $15 M. We also never heard any details from the Baker study also commissioned by NCTA that describes that the bypass will result in average time savings for commuters of a mere 18 seconds and the maximum time savings will be 5-7 minutes. We never heard details of the arguments that were presented in the lawsuit about the serious flaws and omissions in the data and analysis. If we had, delegates would realize there is good reason that the SELC won a unanimous decision from the second highest court in the United States.
We are responsible for making extremely important decisions for how our limited transportation dollars are spent. We should not rubber stamp recommendations from staff without complete understanding of all facts and viewpoints. The Monroe bypass group also asked for 30 minutes to make a presentation on April 17th and were limited to 10 minutes. I would suggest as an alternative that that we forego the presentation on managed lanes during the educational hour prior to the meeting and give each group 30 minutes to present their concerns. It may not reach the full membership but it is a start to providing a more balanced forum for diverse viewpoints on these multimillion dollar expenditures. I urge you to reconsider this decision.
And here’s one more from Widen I-77 leader Kurt Naas to Mayor Paxton:
Hello Mayor Paxton-
Thank you for your efforts in ensuring this critical issue is adequately represented.
It might help the members to know that, as of this writing, elected officials of the Lake Norman towns have been the beneficiaries of four separate presentations on managed lanes, including a 1:1 session with managed lane experts.
At this juncture, representatives of the affected towns have had ample opportunity to be informed on the topic from those that support this project. We feel it is necessary and appropriate that an alternate viewpoint- one that represents the affected citizens- also be presented. While wideni77 does not claim to speak for all citizens on this matter, in three short weeks we have collected nearly 1,000 petition signatures opposing HOT lanes, and our website has over 11,000 hits.
We see only marginal value in another managed lane presentation, especially since there is another voice to be heard, and request MUMPO change the agenda per Mayor Paxton’s recommendation.
Some may see this as simply a local spat that doesn’t affect anyone outside of greater Charlotte. When was the last time you saw the state do something in a contained, limited manner? If this system goes in here, you’ll see politicians all over the state scrambling to get in on the cash cow known as HOT lanes.