Denied! Citizens Silenced at MUMPO Meeting

About forty people made the trek to downtown Charlotte for the big MUMPO I-77 toll lane vote tonight.  Eighteen people signed up to speak during the public comment period. MUMPOMeetingIndividuals are allotted three minutes apiece; groups have ten minutes.

Before the meeting, MUMPO Chair Sarah McAulay came over to one of the citizens in the front row and asked if he was leading the I-77 group.  He said he was there as an individual.  McAulay then informed him the group would get ten minutes total to speak during the public comment period.

So what should have been 54 minutes of comments was lopped to 10.

People spoke up in protest.  McAulay rapped her gavel and called the meeting to order.  First item of business was approval of the agenda, which it summarily was.  Next was the public comment period.  Three people got up to speak- as a group- on the Monroe Bypass, which they did for 10 minutes.

McAulay then asked who was speaking for the I-77 group.  I stood and said I recognized four Widen I-77 members plus myself, and I would take that time for the group.  I said the others- many of whom I had never seen before- were there as individuals and should be allowed to comment as individuals.

At some point in that conversation, McAulay ordered me to podium.  I said this was not part of my public speaking time; I was clarifying the situation.  She told me to sit down.  I reiterated my point that there was one group and several individuals.

Sometime during that exchange- it was hard to hear because folks were getting a little hot- she rapped her gavel and said our public comment period just ended.  She moved on to the next agenda item.

The room erupted in protest, with chants of “let us speak” and “first amendment.”  Charlotte Commissioner David Howard suggested McAulay call security because the citizens were becoming dangerous.

Another individual, prepared speech in hand, made his way to the podium.  McAulay ordered him to sit down, which, after a few attempts to start his comments, he reluctantly did.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider what could have happened.  Any one of the MUMPO members could have made a motion to let the citizens have their speaking time.  Recognizing the majority of people were their constituents, Cornelius Commissioner Chuck Travis and Davidson Commissioner Brian Jenest especially should have realized this and spoke up.

They did not.

So when the hubbub died down and the grumbling people finally filed out, the meeting went on.

And not one citizen made a single public comment.

I feel bad for the folks who drove all the way down to Charlotte only to witness the worst of an unresponsive bureaucracy.  McAulay’s abuse of authority stands in stark contrast to the Cornelius Town Board, who a few years back patiently listened, deep into the night, to dozens of citizens voice their opinion on the Augustalee project.

The sad thing is MUMPO doesn’t report to anybody.  There’s no authority to appeal to.  There’s nothing in their bylaws about the requirement for a public comment period.  They don’t care what the public thinks.  They don’t have to.

Forget which side of the toll lane debate you’re on.  What happened tonight was a disgrace.

UPDATE: thank goodness someone made a video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ot9f4bJilCk

Urgent! Big Opportunity to Stop Toll Lanes Tomorrow- Please Help

Dear Friends,
 
Due to a technical error, a bill to slow down tolling (HB267) was not filed and it’s back on the floor tomorrow (Tues May 21) at 2:00 p.m. Legislators are considering amending this bill so a toll project would require the vote of the General Assembly for all toll projects, including I-77 and all new lanes and HOV lanes.
 
Please help to stop toll roads, lanes, etc. by sending an email to ALL N.C. House Representatives today and tonight. Please have your friends send a message. This could be our biggest opportunity to stop the tolls on I-77 and tolling of new lanes and HOV lanes in NC.
Please, take a few minutes tonight.  Avoiding 50 years of tolls is worth it.  Thanks.
.
Suggest:

The decision to toll a road- new or existing- should not be undertaken lightly.  Toll roads last for decades and will have a major impact on North Carolina residents.

So I believe any decision to toll any road should come before a vote of the entire General Assembly, and that includes I-77.

I’m asking you to please remove the exception to I-77 from HB 267, and to require any decision for tolling be voted on by the General Assembly.

email in blocks of 25 (so you don’t catch the spam filter):

Set 1:   Thom.Tillis@ncleg.net , Paul.Stam@ncleg.net , Edgar.Starnes@ncleg.net , Mike.Hager@ncleg.net , Pat.McElraft@ncleg.net , Jamie.Boles@ncleg.net , Ruth.Samuelson@ncleg.net , Rick.Catlin@ncleg.net , Dean.Arp@ncleg.net , Larry.Hall@ncleg.net , Michael.Wray@ncleg.net , Winkie.Wilkins@ncleg.net , Susan.Fisher@ncleg.net , Rosa.Gill@ncleg.net , Deborah.Ross@ncleg.net , Marvin.Lucas@ncleg.net , Duane.Hall@ncleg.net , Phil.Shepard@ncleg.net , John.Torbett@ncleg.net , Frank.Iler@ncleg.net , Charles.Jeter@ncleg.net , Kelly.Hastings@ncleg.net , Evelyn.Terry@ncleg.net , Alma.Adams@ncleg.net , Nathan.Baskerville@ncleg.net

Set 2:  Jerry.Dockham@ncleg.net , Nathan.Ramsey@ncleg.net , Bill.Brawley@ncleg.net , Dana.Bumgardner@ncleg.net , Becky.Carney@ncleg.net , Carl.Ford@ncleg.net , George.Cleveland@ncleg.net , Tricia.Cotham@ncleg.net , Rodney.Moore@ncleg.net , Larry.Pittman@ncleg.net , Jason.Saine@ncleg.net , Jacqueline.Schaffer@ncleg.net , Hugh.Blackwell@ncleg.net , William.Brisson@ncleg.net , Brian.Brown@ncleg.net , Rayne.Brown@ncleg.net , Josh.Dobson@ncleg.net , Nelson.Dollar@ncleg.net , John.Faircloth@ncleg.net , Valerie.Foushee@ncleg.net , Ken.Goodman@ncleg.net , Charles.Graham@ncleg.net , Susi.Hamilton@ncleg.net , Yvonne.Holley@ncleg.net , Chuck.McGrady@ncleg.net

Set 3:  Deb.McManus@ncleg.net , Tim.Moffitt@ncleg.net , Tim.Moore@ncleg.net , Stephen.Ross@ncleg.net , Michael.Stone@ncleg.net , Paul.Tine@ncleg.net , Joe.Tolson@ncleg.net , Kelly.Alexander@ncleg.net , Robert.Brawley@ncleg.net , Mark.Brody@ncleg.net , Rob.Bryan@ncleg.net , Carla.Cunningham@ncleg.net , Beverly.Earle@ncleg.net , Craig.Horn@ncleg.net , Linda.Johnson2@ncleg.net , Mitchell.Setzer@ncleg.net , Rena.Turner@ncleg.net , Harry.Warren@ncleg.net , Andy.Wells@ncleg.net , Marilyn.Avila@ncleg.net , John.Bell@ncleg.net , Larry.Bell@ncleg.net , John.Blust@ncleg.net , Marcus.Brandon@ncleg.net , Justin.Burr@ncleg.net

Set 4:  Jeff.Collins@ncleg.net , Debra.Conrad@ncleg.net , Leo.Daughtry@ncleg.net , Ted.Davis@ncleg.net , Jimmy.Dixon@ncleg.net , Jeffrey.Elmore@ncleg.net , Jean.Farmer-Butterfield@ncleg.net , Elmer.Floyd@ncleg.net , Jim.Fulghum@ncleg.net , Rick.Glazier@ncleg.net , George.Graham@ncleg.net , Edward.Hanes@ncleg.net , Jon.Hardister@ncleg.net , Pricey.Harrison@ncleg.net , Mark.Hollo@ncleg.net , Bryan.Holloway@ncleg.net , Julia.Howard@ncleg.net , Pat.Hurley@ncleg.net , Verla.Insko@ncleg.net , Darren.Jackson@ncleg.net , Bert.Jones@ncleg.net , Jonathan.Jordan@ncleg.net , Donny.Lambeth@ncleg.net , James.Langdon@ncleg.net , David.Lewis@ncleg.net

Set 5:  Paul.Luebke@ncleg.net , Chris.Malone@ncleg.net , Susan.Martin@ncleg.net , Allen.McNeill@ncleg.net , Mickey.Michaux@ncleg.net , Chris.Millis@ncleg.net , Annie.Mobley@ncleg.net , Tom.Murry@ncleg.net , Garland.Pierce@ncleg.net , Michele.Presnell@ncleg.net , Joe.Queen@ncleg.net , Bobbie.Richardson@ncleg.net , Dennis.Riddell@ncleg.net , Michael.Speciale@ncleg.net , Bob.Steinburg@ncleg.net , Sarah.Stevens@ncleg.net , John.Szoka@ncleg.net , Ken.Waddell@ncleg.net , Roger.West@ncleg.net , Chris.Whitmire@ncleg.net

Taxpayers on the hook if I-77 toll project fails

UPDATE: Added scenarios prior to Substantial Completion and bankruptcy exception.

The proposed plan to widen I-77 with toll lanes is expected to cost $550M.  The bulk of that cost will be financed by a private company in what’s called a public-private partnership, or P3, and will be repaid with toll revenues.  Estimates put the required toll revenues at $20- 30M per year which would make it the second-highest grossing toll lane in the country, and significantly higher than the national median of $4.3M. By way of comparison, last year toll revenues from I-15 in Salt Lake City, with a similar metropolitan population, were $600K.

In January NCDOT officials noted a key value proposition of the proposed public-private partnership (P3) was that it “passes substantial risk to the private sector.” At a pre-meeting of the Cornelius Town Board, one commissioner stated he received a call from an NCDOT official who told him the private companies were “excited” and the bond rating agencies had given the project “an investment-grade rating.”

I don’t doubt the commissioner heard it right, but how can that be if revenues from similar projects are a mere quarter of the expected costs?

The answer lies in the contract, which contains extensive provisions for compensation if it is terminated.

There are three basic scenarios for termination (the contract refers to the private company as the “Developer”):

  1. NCDOT terminates or defaults on the contract
  2. Developer terminates or defaults on the contract
  3. An event happens beyond anyone’s control (i.e. a hurricane), and either the NCDOT or Developer terminates the contract

In each case, the Developer is entitled to compensation. The amount varies based on the reason and timing of the termination. I’ll try and explain, but full disclosure: I’m not a lawyer.  I may not be the brightest bulb on the marquee but I’m not the dimmest either, and I am befuddled by the contract language.  It’s 18 pages of convoluted language. This may get a little tedious.

First, some background.  Projects of this type are typically funded by a combination of taxpayer contribution (in our case, $170M), debt (by issuing bonds on the private market) and equity (contributed by the Developer).  We do not yet know how much will be debt vs equity, but we can expect the Developer to issue as much debt as possible. We’ll learn why in a minute.

If the NCDOT decides to terminate the contract, they have to pay the Developer the greater of either the fair market value of the project, or the amount of debt still remaining.  (There’s ancillary compensation, but the remaining debt is the biggie.)  The key point here is “greater of either.”

Let’s say the project is a disaster. Revenues don’t cover the cost, and the project is swimming in red ink. The Fair Market Value of the project would be zero.  No one values a project that loses money.  So the NCDOT would have to pay nothing, right?  Wrong.  They would still have to pay off the remaining debt (called the Senior Debt Termination Amount, or SDTA, and subordinate debt), even if the project is a failure.  With interest.

If the Developer defaults on the contract (i.e. they don’t do the required maintenance, they don’t keep the lanes open like they’re supposed to, etc), the NCDOT pays 80% of the above upon termination. The sole exception to this is if the Developer goes bankrupt, in which case they would not be entitled to any compensation.  However, this is not a realistic scenario.  Long before the Developer would be in this situation, they would opt to terminate.  Yes, they stand to lose 20%, but this would be preferable to bankruptcy.

The above scenarios are after Substantial Completion.  There are also provisions for compensation prior to Financial Close (Developer is paid for Work Product + work invoiced); during the Ramp Up Period (which is basically the same as if NCDOT terminates + the cost to demobilize the project); and before Notice to Proceed 1 (NTP1) and NTP2 (Developer is paid either the Ramp Up compensation or the same as if NCDOT terminates).

Now for the last point.  An event beyond anyone’s control is called a force majeure.  Say a hurricane tears through the area and makes a mess of I-77.  The Developer decides they don’t want to incur the cost of repairs due to force majeure, so they terminate the contract.  They are entitled to the essentially the same compensation as if the NCDOT elected to terminate the contract.

Regardless of the fiscal nuances, the fact is if the contract is terminated, the taxpayer bails out the Developer.  This is most certainly not “insulating the public from risk”, as some have toll lane advocates have stated. (I don’t think any of that was said with the intent to mislead, but I do think we should be asking tougher questions.)

Widen I-77 previously concluded the project had become so bloated it would collapse under its own weight.  Unfortunately, that likely won’t happen with the taxpayer propping it up.  No matter how awful the income statement looks, the taxpayer will be there as a backstop. That’s what the underwriters and rating agencies are banking on.

This is not speculation- it’s history.  North Carolina’s only toll road, the Triangle Expressway, cost one billion dollars.  It was paid for by state bonds and a “loan” from the federal government.  Toll revenues are so low the General Assembly has allocated $25M per year for the next 30 years to cover expected shortfalls.

There’s a good possibility our children and grandchildren will be paying to bailout I-77.  And they’ll get to pay the tolls, too.

>>>>><<<<<

PS If you’re a glutton for punishment, here is an excerpt from the Termination Compensation clause (Exhibit 15) of the contract.  Good luck:

Developer will be paid…

(B) An amount which, when added to all Distributions described in clause (a) of the definition thereof actually paid to Equity Members or their Affiliates on or before the Early Termination Date: (1) yields as of the Early Termination Date at an internal rate of return on Committed Investment described in clause (a) of the definition thereof, other than Subordinate Debt (taking into account the timing of such Distributions and Committed Investment), equal to the Base Case Equity IRR; plus (2) repays as of the Early Termination Date outstanding Subordinate Debt (excluding Breakage Costs) with interest thereon accrued up to the Early Termination Date at a rate equal to the lesser of (X) the non-default interest rate provided in the Funding Agreements for the Subordinate Debt or (Y) the Base Case Equity IRR;plus

(iii) If termination occurs prior to Substantial Completion of all Project Sections, Developer’s own reasonable and documented out-of-pocket costs to demobilize;minus

(iv) The incremental increase, if any, in the costs Developer incurs under Section 19.5.10 of the Agreement over the present value of such costs under the Base Case Financial Model, but without double counting of the amounts under clauses (i), (ii) and (iii) above; minus

(v) All Borrowed Cash and Credit Balances, except to the extent such

balances are already deducted in determining the Senior Debt Termination Amount; minus

(vi) The portion of any Compensation Amounts previously paid to Developer that (i) compensated Developer for cost and revenue impacts attributable to the period after the Early Termination Date and (ii) were not previously used to reduce Project Debt within the definition of Senior Debt Termination Amount.

Cornelius Commisioner Gilroy on Toll Lanes

Dave Gilroy asked us to post his monthly newsletter.  Here it is in its entirety:

Hello Everyone,
This entire Cornelius Update is focused on the critical I-77 Toll Lanes issue – arguably the most important question currently facing North Meck and one that will fundamentally impact our daily experience and quality of life for several decades to come. Public frustration levels on this issue are beginning to boil over in North Meck and for good reason. The 3-2 vote to affirm Toll Lanes at our Town Board meeting this past week, was undoubtedly the single worst decision I’ve witnessed in my 8 years serving Cornelius. Based on the flood of emails I received, I am well aware that many of you share my profound disappointment in Chuck Travis, John Bradford, and Lynette Rinker for their ill-conceived and close-minded decision. I’ll explain where we are now on this issue, and then suggest how folks who want to channel their anger can get involved. Given the length here, you may want to read when you have a few minutes to spare.
A lot has changed since 2010 when we started exploring Toll Lanes as a means of widening I-77. Even since my last Newsletter 2 months ago when I wrote, “Political realities make financing General Purpose (GP) Lanes impossible for the foreseeable future”, the pace of change has been dramatic, and we have every reason in the world now to reconsider. In fact, anyone with an open mind taking a fresh look must acknowledge a compelling emerging opportunity to widen I-77 with GP Lanes on the same timeline as Toll Lanes, if not sooner. Here’s why –
  • State funding & prioritization. Our NC Legislature is now moving Governor McCrory’s proposed Strategic Mobility Formula sponsored by this region’s own Rep. Bill Brawley. The potential new law offers $16 billion over the next decade for statewide and major regional transportation needs – with a much higher priority put on “congested arteries serving major cities”. The Observer’s article on Tuesday called this forthcoming new law “the biggest overhaul in state transportation spending policy in 24 years”. A core principle of this new regime is funding more roadway capital projects based on a “data-driven” approach, not the same old political approach of the 1989 Highway Trust Fund Act, which would be outright cancelled.
  • Regional funding & prioritization. MUMPO (Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization – the key allocator of funds for our region) formally adopted an entirely new methodology and criteria (“Roadway Project Ranking Methodology”) on March 20, 2013. This new criteria explicitly puts far more weight on objective factors highly advantageous to I-77 GP Lanes (e.g. Reduces Congestion, Access to Employment Center) and far less weight on factors disadvantageous to GP Lanes (e.g. Center City, Impacts Air Quality which now carry no weight at all). Carefully considered analysis presented to our Board by Kurt Naas and Vince Winegardner suggest that GP Lanes would go from the infamous MUMPO ranking of #93 circa 2010 to the top of the list, if not the #1 project in the region. For those of us who drive around this region every week, this is purely common sense.
Even if the Strategic Mobility Formula legislation doesn’t pass this session, GP Lanes would still go to the top of the list in NC if MUMPO’s new methodology supports the project. This is because I-77 GP Lanes have always scored extremely well at state level on a quantitative merit basis, but have lacked MUMPO’s political support in the past which is key.
So, when Speaker Thom Tillis, whose words have huge impact and for good reason, famously said “good luck getting GP Lanes through MUMPO” earlier this year, in a meeting with several local officials and the Widen I-77 organization, he may have been right then, but the regional and state framework for highway funding is now changing radically almost real-time.
So, why no similar change in the views of many of our politicians, as reflected in Cornelius’s idiotic vote Monday night? Several reasons, all inexcusable:
  1. Ego and psychology. Travis, Bradford, and Rinker (all close colleagues of mine who do not take strong policy disagreements personally), like so many other politicians, have strenuously and loudly made the argument in recent years that “it’s toll lanes or no lanes”. We all understand the powerful instincts in human nature against admitting when we might be wrong
  2. Defeatism – Many of these I-77 discussions exude an attitude of defeat – “we’ve lost; there is no hope; Charlotte owns MUMPO and they’ll never support what’s fair and makes sense in North Meck because they simply don’t care, etc.” This is self-fulfilling of course; as long as North Meck leaders don’t challenge status quo thinking, then Charlotte politicians are happy to let us pay tolls forever
  3. Government inertia – “hitting the pause button” is never something government at any level does well. A massive enterprise like the current $550 million Private-Public Partnership (P3) conceived in 2010 and coordinated across innumerable local, regional, and state government entities long since took on a life of its own and an aura of inevitability. It’s the “way the wind is blowing” and so many of our politicians go along to get along unfortunately
  4. Absolutism – for me, the most painful reason why North Meck is “sleep walking” into a minimum 50 years of paying several dollars each way to avoid ever worsening gridlock on I-77, is the reason John Bradford gave for voting for Tolls, “unless we have 100% confirmed proof of GP Lanes in the near future, then I choose Toll Lanes.” There are huge unknowns and risks associated with Toll Lanes (see WidenI77.org for a full set of facts and insight about managed Toll Lanes realities) and similar projects elsewhere have gone terribly wrong (see recent Washington Business Journal article about an eerily similar P3 structure set up in Virginia in the late ’90s now in disarray with financial failure, crazy-high tolls, and hyper congested GP lanes AND surrounding secondary roads – Greenway Mess), why in the world would we err on the side of Toll Lanes as Bradford suggests?
All of us in local, regional, and state leadership owe our constituents an intense effort to due diligence a GP Lanes option. With the rapidly changing framework for roadway projects in NC, now is the time. NC DOT will not sign the contract for Toll Lanes until the end of the year, so there is sufficient time to act. Clearly, development and good faith due diligence of an alternative option is simply smart planning. After all, I-77 must be widened ASAP, and there are still uncertainties around Toll Lane economics and feasibility. $170 million of the $550 million on the Toll Lane project is NC taxpayer funded anyway – can some way be found for these same dollars to go to GP Lanes (especially since we would only need as little as half of this total)?
As a first step, I made a motion at our Board meeting to respectfully ask MUMPO to analyze how a GP Lanes option would be evaluated under their newly adopted prioritization methodology (even if only to provide a preliminary, informal assessment). Common sense, right? Yet Rinker, in her confused, highly charged thinking on this subject, broke our tie in voting this motion down, even though earlier in the evening her chief criticism of the Widen I-77 analysis was that Naas and team had not yet worked directly with MUMPO personnel.
How can you help? Go to WidenI77.org and learn more. Sign the petition. Attend the next meeting (info below). Email lrinker@cornelius.org, ctravis@cornelius.org, and jbradford@cornelius.org and demand that Cornelius send a message to MUMPO and regional/state politicians that a serious, fresh look at GP Lanes is needed given the emerging, entirely new framework for transportation spending in NC.
WidenI77.org working session:
Date: May 14th
Time: 7pm
Place: Cornelius Town Hall,
21445 Catawba Ave., Cornelius
 
Dave Gilroy
Commissioner, Town of Cornelius

I-77 Working Session May 14th

Many of you have asked how you can become involved in Widen I-77’s efforts to get our freeway widened without tolls.  There is much work to be done and we could use your help.

To that end, we’ve scheduled a one hour working session next Tues May 14th.

Date: May 14th
Time: 7pm
Place: Cornelius Town Hall,
21445 Catawba Ave., Cornelius

 
We could really use your help.

Together we can!

When the facts may not support your bill, ram it through in the dead of night

UPDATE 1:
Below I implied the Davidson Town Board was involved in a back room horse trade before I bothered to ask any Board members.  That was wrong.  I should’ve asked the question straight up first. Since this post, Davidson Board members have told me- in no uncertain terms- that there was no horse trading going on, and that they act independently. I take them at their word, and I apologize to them and retract that statement.

UPDATE 2:
Many elected officials have been quoted in the media as saying Widen I-77 has been spreading misinformation and facts out of context.  In the same spirit as UPDATE 1, I respectfully request all elected officials stop making statements of that nature unless they question us first, and then cite specific examples. Also, I specifically request Davidson Mayor Woods offer a similar apology and retraction for implying Widen I-77 has spread misinformation creating confusion and hysteria.

>>>>>><<<<<<<

Last night in Cornelius we gave the Cornelius Town Board a presentation on all the recent positive developments that would get us general purpose lanes sooner.  With the metropolitan planning organization (MUMPO) scheduled to amend their plan to include toll lanes, this new information is critical. Cornelius has a seat on MUMPO and the purpose of the presentation was to help the board decide how to direct their MUMPO vote.

Originally, the board was going to listen at the May 6 meeting and decide how to direct their MUMPO vote at the May 20th meeting.  Commissioner Dave Gilroy made a motion to have MUMPO rank GP lanes according to the new criteria in time for the May 20th meeting.  Late in the evening, Commissioner Chuck Travis short-circuited that by offering a motion to vote toll lanes into the MUMPO plan that night.

Travis and Bradford supported. Gilroy and Hare opposed.  With the board short one member, that left Mayor Rinker, who had been evasive on the topic, to break the tie.  She voted for the toll lanes.

When elected officials ram through resolutions in the dead of night, the electorate should be wary.  When they vote against their constituent’s interest, the electorate must ask: are they voting for their own interests?

Let’s ponder that a moment. A reporter recently stated the Davidson Town Board has been promised the Red Line commuter rail in return for supporting toll lanes.  For the uninitiated, the big lure of the Red Line is not transportation, but rather the $5B of development it is expected to generate.

In light of that, the Cornelius vote is intriguing. Gilroy runs a financial consulting firm. Hare owns a wealth management company.  Neither of those professions stand to benefit from the Red Line real estate boom.  Conversely, Bradford owns Park Avenue Properties, a property management firm.  Travis is a partner with an architectural firm specializing in high-density, mixed use development.  Coincidentally, that is exactly the type of development expected along the Red Line.

Gilroy did the HOT lane math months ago and realized it doesn’t work. Hare’s vote was especially heartening because yesterday he received a phone call from an NCDOT official (of all days).  The official told him the private firms are really excited and the bond rating agencies (the same folks that fell in love with sub-prime mortgages) gave the project an investment grade.

In retrospect, Bradford’s vote was not surprising.  Last week he claimed he did not have thirty minutes to meet with Gilroy and me to discuss the topic.  And Travis has been a toll road supporter from the jump.

Let’s be honest: the Cornelius vote is a disappointing setback. But George Washington lost two thirds of his battles against the British and we all know how that turned out. With that in mind, and knowing we have the facts and your best interests on our side, we press on, more determined than ever.

As always, thanks for your support and thanks for reading this.

PS You might want to email them and let them know your thoughts:

FOR TOLL LANES:
jbradford@cornelius.org;ctravis@cornelius.org;lrinker@cornelius.org

AGAINST TOLL LANES:
dgilroy@cornelius.org;jhare@cornelius.org

N.C. House Representative Robert Brawley Speaks Out Against Toll Lanes on I-77

BrawleyFollowing is a statement by Representative Robert Brawley of the 95th district (Iredell) given at a press conference today. Rep. Brawley supports funding general purpose lanes and not toll lanes. We are very grateful for his support against tolls.

Representative C. Robert Brawley
NC House of Representatives
300 N. Salisbury Street, Room 303
Raleigh, NC 27603-5925

Statement by Representative Robert Brawley Regarding I-77 HOT Lane Proposal

 We are here today because new information that I had not seen before has been shared with me. Previously, my position for widening I-77 has been that while I strongly oppose toll roads, the only way we could afford to widen I-77 without delaying all transportation projects in the area was if we tolled I-77. However, over the last couple of days I have had the opportunity to meet with the public and research this issue in much more detail. What I see is that there clearly is a way to widen I-77 without toll lanes.

It is quite clear after further study and review that the NCDOT is taking a $100 million dollar solution and turning it into a $550 million problem. Common sense and fiscal responsibility is what is needed to solve this problem. Now that prioritization of transportation projects have changed, existing taxpayer funds are available, and I have heard the well-warranted concerns of the public, I am taking a new position and I ask other lawmakers and local leaders to do the same.

The problem on I-77 in this region is the bottleneck from Iredell toward Charlotte for approximately 14 miles that is only two lanes wide. We don’t need to add toll lanes for 27 miles all the way into Charlotte to fix this problem. Instead, we can add a lane in each direction. That gives us a 50% increase in capacity for less than $100 million. There is $170 million of taxpayer money available for the HOT lane proposal as it is presented. Therefore, we have the $100 million to add general purpose lanes to the area that needs to be widened.  It does not make sense to pay $170 million of taxpayer funds (your money) for a $550 million toll road. In addition, we would be strapped to a 50 year contract with a private, for-profit company.

Why toll 27 miles and redo nine bridges when we can increase capacity by 50% by widening 14 miles and adding two bridges with no toll? We do not need to toll 27 miles for $550 million when 14 miles of general purpose lanes for $100 million solves our problem.

With the new criteria for road projects by the regional planning organization, known as MUMPO, and Governor McCrory’s new transportation plan, widening I-77 with general purpose lanes would be placed high on the priority list for utilizing existing public funds. Our problem with I-77 should be solved by common sense and not grand schemes that place an unfair burden on the public. I ask my fellow legislators to join me in saving the taxpayer funds, moving us forward in a manner that does not force tolls on the public who use I-77.

On May 22, MUMPO will be voting on amending their transportation plan that would enable the NCDOT to move forward with the toll proposal. I ask each city to meet, review all the options –- not just the NCDOT’s — and instruct their representative to vote in favor saving the people’s money, who elected them to represent the public’s interests. There have been many meetings about why HOT Lanes are the best or only option, but almost no meetings about other options or why the toll roads are not the best option. It’s time to listen to other options and consider a better solution. We are a representative government. Let the people be heard.

Do we solve the problem with $100 million tax dollars or do we add the expenses of time and redoing bridges to accommodate HOT lanes at $550 million? Three of four bidders on the HOT lanes are headquartered outside the U.S.  – which to me, is another issue. However, today I want to focus on the issue at hand – which is simply that the toll roads are 1) an unfair burden on the public, 2) they will not ease congestion, and 3) they are not a wise way to spend tax dollars.

This issue of widening I-77 can be solved by common sense… and with existing funds that are available right now and today.

Representative Robert Brawley 95th NC House (919) 733-5741 (704) 658-8511

“Together We Can”

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.