1. What is your position on the I-77 Toll Lanes project and why?
The most congested areas of I77 are the approximately 13 miles between exits 23 and 36. As a new legislator I have learned first-hand that the State has additional debt capacity which is clearly demonstrated by the upcoming bond package to be voted on the March 2016 ballot. Considering that this project was not formally ranked as part of the STI process I think the existing contract should be terminated and GP lanes installed in the most congested section of I77. First, I would try to fund this endeavor outside the STI (since it was planned before the STI became law) using the State’s additional debt capacity or, second, we should try to terminate the existing contract and have the project formally ranked under the STI even if it means waiting several years for adequate funding and widening. I successfully sponsored and passed House Bill 954 which terminated the tolling project. This was considered by many to be a near impossible feat. After passage, this bill was sent to the Senate where it was never heard in Committee and no formal vote was taken.
2. Please provide examples of your leadership or involvement on the I-77 Toll Lane issue (for or against) over the last two years.
- As a Town Commissioner, I supported the RFP process to better understand our vendor options for widening I77. I was advised the RFP was a request for vendor proposals for further review/consideration by the NCDOT.
- Once concerning contract details started to surface, I signed a letter (written by Kurt Naas) that was sent to the Governor asking for a delay in the project because of concerning details in the contract’s draft language. I also garnered 3 out of the remaining 4 Cornelius Town Commissioners to join me in signing the letter which was publicly thanked and acknowledged by Cornelius Town Commissioner, Dave Gilroy.
- As a member of the House of Representatives, once I heard about the Governor’s proposed $3B bond package (with $1.4B allocated for highway transportation projects) I immediately asked for a meeting with the Governor’s staff and NCDOT to discuss the viability of using this possible new funding source to widen I77 using GP lanes.
- I met with former NC Secretary of Transportation Tata and the Governor’s Budget Director, Lee Roberts, to discuss the project’s ability to be delayed as well as the viability of using the newly proposed bonds as a possible funding source for the GP lanes in the most congested areas.
- I formally requested that the NCDOT not sign the contract and delay the project until it could be determined if using the proposed bond money was an option to fund GP lanes in the most congested areas.
- Attended community meeting at Waltrip racing and answered audience questions.
- Signed the circulated business petition as a local business owner.
- Attended the press conference at the NCGA with Mecklenburg County Commissioner Puckett and Senator Tarte, among many others, about this project.
- Consistently met with individuals and groups in Raleigh lobbying against this project.
- Voted against the House’s $2B version of the proposed bond package in the House Finance Committee because it contained $400M (down from $1.4B) for highway transportation projects.
- I authored an amendment to the House’s version of the bond package on the House floor which redirected the $400M for highway transportation projects away from STI ranked highway projects and, would instead, use these funds to terminate the current contract and install GP lanes, in both directions, from mile marker 20 to exit 36. Before a formal vote was taken on my amendment it was ruled out of order by the Rules Chair and Speaker of the House due to a legal technicality regarding the ability to use bond money to pay for contract termination fees.
- Voted to support a floor amendment authored by Rep. Bumgardner which would prohibit any bond money to be used on tolling-related projects.
- Voted against the House’s version of the bond package on the House floor because of the $400M highway transportation allocation. I was resolved to only support the bond package if there was no transportation funding included.
- Continue to have meetings with LKN Chamber officials, area business owners, legislators and the NCDOT to discuss this project and what options do we have at this time.
- Completed and submitted the I-77 Business Plan affidavit to be used for the pending litigation.
- Made a private financial donation at a fundraiser to help support the anti-tolling citizens group for the lawsuit.
- Participated in a press conference with Senator Tarte and former Rep Jeter asking the Governor and NCDOT to terminate the contract.
- Attended and spoke at a CRTPO Committee meeting asking them to terminate the project.
- Sponsored HB954 to terminate the contract.
- Met with legislative colleagues to gain support to terminate the contract.
- Successfully passed HB954 in the Transportation Committee.
- Successfully passed HB954 in the Finance Committee.
- Successfully passed HB954 on the House Floor with an incredible bi-partisan vote of 81-27.
- Participated in a press release asking the Senate to pass HB954.
- Met with members of the Senate to try and obtain support to pass HB954 in the Senate.
3. A citizen’s group has filed a lawsuit to stop the I-77 Toll Lanes project. Would you support local municipalities joining – or otherwise supporting – the suit? Why or why not?
Yes. I believe that since the NCDOT has taken a formal position that the local municipalities wanted/asked for this project then it seems reasonable to me that the local municipalities can use whatever legal means they have to try and stop the project.