by Jackson Sveen

DAVIDSON – While Davidson Town Board members did not openly support the widening of Interstate 77 through the implementation of toll lanes, several commissioners defended the concept during the town’s Jan. 29 community chat.

The community is “engaged in a rather confusing and complex discussion,” Davidson’s Mayor John Woods said. “There has been a lot of back and forth discussion and opinions on what is right or wrong about this, but we are under the direction of the state. The town of Davidson doesn’t manage I-77, nor does the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County or Iredell County.”

Planning for enormous growth

During the discussion between Davidson residents and the town board, Mecklenburg County’s ever-expanding population was a focal point in the apparent need to widen the interstate that runs through the Lake Norman region.

Residents and officials floated statistics ranging from 50 percent expansion in Mecklenburg County by 2030 to 150 percent.

Commissioner Brian Jenest said he has been told Mecklenburg County will double by 2030, meaning more than four million people would populate the area.

Whatever growth the area sees, Woods said that the statistics “ are all kind of eyeballing. They’re the kind that say, whoa, how are we going to do that? How are we going to live, move and breathe?”

Woods said a Council of Governments’ grant will pay for a growth estimate and how it will be handled in the future.

“We’ve got to plan for it and have got to expect it to happen,” he said. “We know we are in a wonderful place to live and work and that’s why we are all here, but we are going to bear some burden for that at the same time.”

Prices that scale with traffic

Commissioner Rodney Graham explained of the dynamic pricing model that will be implemented with the proposed high-occupancy toll lanes. When there is a high demand for the HOT lanes, the price to use them will go up.

“It’s supply and demand,” Graham said.

If congestion is low, the price will drop to encourage drivers to use the toll lanes.

Commissioner Laurie Venzon said that because of the supply-and-demand model, the lanes will primarily be used during rush hour.

“If you’re going down there at 10 or 11 (in the morning), you won’t even need the lanes,” she said.

Jenest said the dynamic pricing model will benefit commuters because, “the idea is always to keep the traffic in those two lanes moving. At some point, people will not go into it because (the price) will get higher and that’s part of the beauty of it, is at least it keeps some of the traffic flowing.”

Vince Winegardner, a Davidson resident and member of the community group Widen I-77, said the fee at some dynamic pricing tolls could get as high as $4-$8.

“It’s reasonable to expect it to be at least in that range during rush hour,” Winegardner said. “The HOT lanes are designed to promote congestion. Without congestion, they don’t make any money. Where’s that congestion going to go? In our beautiful little town. We are going to see a traffic increase on Main Street, that’s already bad during rush hour.”

But Jenest said commuters trying to avoid interstate congestion are already flooding town roads.

“It’s already happening, and we are going to double our population,” Jenest said. “Those people are going to need somewhere to go. We’ve got to widen the road. We have to.”

Davidson resident Mattie Fletcher said she’d prefer to take on the growth without the toll lanes.

“I would rather deal with it like it is,” Fletcher said. “This will kill Davidson.”

Towns can’t fix the problem

Mayor Woods told residents that the issue cannot be resolved by the town board. He asked citizens to take their concerns to the Lake Norman Transportation Commission meetings on Feb. 13 in Cornelius Town Hall and March 13 in Davidson Town Hall.

Representatives from the N.C. Department of Transportation and other officials will be at the meetings to “discuss this and to clear up any confusion about what is or isn’t the facts about this issue,” Woods said.

Those meetings will include question-and-answer sessions.

See a letter to the editor from Vince Winegardner regarding HOT lanes here.