OPINION: Toll project a bad deal

Joe Vagnone is co-host of WSIC's Local Biz Now, heard Friday mornings at 8 a.m.
Joe Vagnone is co-host of WSIC’s Local Biz Now, heard Friday mornings at 8 a.m.

By: Joe Vagnone

The controversial $650 million I-77 widening project in the Lake Norman region appears to be opposed by the vast majority of residents, as well as by hundreds of local small and large businesses in the area. According to a recent Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce poll, 94% said they are not in favor of the toll plan, while 83% polled by the Charlotte Business Journal disagreed with the managed toll lane project. Certain politicians, NC-DOT Representatives, investors and others with economic interests favoring the construction project are claiming that the toll lanes are a “done deal.” As a small business owner, I, along with other business owners and community leaders, encourage you to educate yourself and make your voice heard as we continue the opposition of this controversial project.

Business leaders believed that certain critical details about the pending toll project, including certain points that remain unresolved, should have been shared with them before the contract was approved. However, that did not happen. For example (1) the positioning of the entrance and exit points on the lanes remain unclear to those who may be impacted, (2) the toll rate information remains vague at best or such tolls will be cost prohibitive (3) a financial impact study relating to local businesses and interstate commerce has not been done, and (4) the 50 year lock-up and limitation on adding additional lanes during that period to accommodate future growth was not widely known. Business owners and leaders expect that such matters would have been resolved and the information shared widely to the public in advance of such a large, untested capital intensive project.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the potential sources for funding for transportation projects appears to have changed in recent months. The community was pressured into accepting toll lanes based on representations that toll roads were the only option to expand I-77. However, we now know that the state will be proposing a multi-billion dollar bond that includes money for road construction. When material facts and circumstances change, business owners have no choice but to re-evaluate decisions that they have made before. They would undertake a cost benefit analysis and modify their course of action where it makes sense to do so, even if doing so may involve a penalty or other costs to get out of a bad deal.

In business, partnerships succeed when all parties’ interests are mutually aligned. In this case, after the roads are built. Our interests diverge for 50 years. Their interest is to gain from congestion where we are expecting congestion relief. This is a bad partnership with little hope of success for both parties.

On June 30th, I will be joining Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett, Senator Jeff Tarte, Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce President, Bill Russell and roughly 170 local business owners and community leaders in Raleigh to communicate our concerns about the pending project to North Carolina politicians. I encourage other business owners and leaders to join us in Raleigh. For more information, visit www.I77BUSINESSPLAN.com and help us put the brakes on I-77 toll lanes.

Joe Vagnone
Small Business Broker and Advisor

Author: WSIC editor