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The residents of North Mecklenburg have been strapped with a terrible deal: a 50-year contract that permits a foreign, unreliable company to charge drivers whatever makes them the most profit in order to drive in toll lanes. For years, our representatives have not acted fairly in dealing with our region’s transportation crisis on I-77. This lack of leadership has left us with an expensive, for-profit toll road, unmanageable congestion, a decades-long wait for improvements and dangerous construction zones that seem to last forever. None of our representatives stood up for our region.
I oppose these toll roads and always have. As a candidate in 2014, I was one of the first and only candidates to speak out against the tolls. It was clear to me as an attorney that the CINTRA contract was a one-sided, bad deal. I said so publicly and included opposition to the proposed toll contract in my top issues. This remains a top issue for drivers, for voters and for me.
On the other hand, my opponent was for the toll roads before he was against them. He has stalled for years and done nothing to stop the tolls. Despite a sustained outburst of voter anger, he has provided only political posturing and enabled the toll project to proceed unhindered. As late as June of 2015, he said that he would not work to stop the tolls because he believed they were overwhelmingly popular. Even worse, this year, he voted to protect the toll contract and tie the Governor’s hands to fix this mess by giving the General Assembly the ultimate say on whether to cancel or amend the contract.
In a nutshell, my opponent has proven that we cannot trust him on this critical issue.
Our best advocate for a better deal on I-77 is Governor Cooper. He opposed the toll contract and called for it to be cancelled before construction began in 2016. Yet McCrory pushed ahead and allowed construction to begin. As Governor, Cooper established the I-77 Advisory Group and, based on the group’s suggestions, has committed to cancel the toll contract and have the State take ownership of the lanes. This buy-back plan requires cooperation from the NCGA under SB99 which requires “express appropriation by the General Assembly,” for the hundreds of million dollars that will be required. The existing STI process is not appropriate for ranking the cancellation of this project; we need “specific, targeted legislation addressing the issue.” We are waiting for the legislature to act. Yet, my opponent and his party have refused to cooperate and, instead, have aggressively stripped the Governor of many of his powers, including the power to cancel or amend the I-77 toll contract without their approval. (SB99, SECTION 34.11.(a)(b)) The only bill my opponent did try to pass failed to go anywhere and would have robbed our area of all road improvement funds for years. The Widen I-77 group agrees that our legislators are making the situation worse, saying “Unfortunately, in every situation, every interpretation, and every opportunity where the NCGA could have helped they have made canceling/modifying the contract more difficult.”
If elected, I will work with Governor Cooper to get the residents of North Mecklenburg a better deal on I-77 by restoring the Governor’s authority to cancel the toll contract and appropriating the funds required to make immediate alterations to the project and to buy out the contract when feasible (which should not come out of the North Mecklenburg road projects budget). I’m running to make sure we get a fair share of our tax dollars for good roads in our district. We must have transportation solutions that benefit all of our residents, not just those who can pay exorbitant tolls.
This issue affects all parts of our district and the state. As long as this Republican supermajority is in place, there’s nothing to stop the General Assembly from adding similar toll roads across all of Mecklenburg County and other parts of the state. Toll roads are unpopular for many valid reasons -- they are annoying, confusing, unfair as a double tax and bad for nearby towns and businesses. As I heard the NC Turnpike Authority Director say at a recent meeting about the new toll lane project in South Charlotte, “I’ve never been anywhere where toll lanes are popular.” Let’s quit electing people who like toll lanes.