An open letter to area I-77 drivers
by Staff Writer
by Kurt Naas
Over the past several months, you’ve probably heard about plans to widen Interstate 77 using toll lanes.
Like you, I was thrilled with the idea that any lane – even a toll lane – would help reduce the awful traffic tie-ups we see on I-77 every weekday. But the more I look into this, the more I’m convinced toll lanes are a bad idea.
First, toll lanes won’t solve I-77’s traffic problems.
Drivers will pay to use the toll lane only when the free lanes are congested. No congestion, no toll revenue.
Right now, the plan is to have the toll lanes operated on a for-profit basis by a private company. The only way any private company will agree to participate is if they can be certain the free lanes stay congested. So instead of relieving congestion, toll lanes will ensure it.
Second, not only will toll lanes ensure congestion, they’ll make it worse. Why? Because the tolls will be set by a practice called “dynamic pricing.” Under this scenario, as traffic gets worse, the toll increases.
The tolling company will want congestion to be as heavy as possible in the free lanes, so they can charge more to drive in the toll lane.
Third, these toll lanes could be under contract for as long as 50 years. During that time, we’ll have little or no say as to what happens with any future I-77 improvements.
Remember, the private company wants the free lanes congested. We can expect them to oppose any further attempts to widen I-77 with anything but more toll lanes.
There hasn’t been a single improvement in north-south roads through Lake Norman since I-77 was built nearly 40 years ago. In the meantime, every other stretch of interstate in Mecklenburg County has been widened at least once. I-77 through Lake Norman is now the only stretch of interstate in Mecklenburg that remains four lanes.
We in the Lake Norman area are way overdue for our turn. I-77 should be widened with general-purpose lanes like they have everywhere else in the county. I’m wondering if any of you feel the same?
Please email me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include “Toll Lanes” in the subject line.
Kurt Naas serves as a member of the Cornelius Transportation Advisory Board.
Click here for coverage of the recent town board discussion of the I-77 widening.