Like the majority of my constituents, I too am queasy about aspects of the I-77 toll project. As we look back now, the whole project was sold to us as the only way to relieve congestion in the I-77 corridor within a reasonable time. The veracity of that argument increasingly is being called into question.
Tolls that theoretically have no upper limit, though an argument can be made that market forces will limit the size of any toll and the inability of the state to add additional lanes, without paying an unspecified penalty. And for a project fraught with so much uncertainty, the duration of the contract - fifty years - is a bit long.
What is absent from the most recent debate is the realization that demand for congestion relief and road improvements is state-wide. Charlotte-Mecklenburg is in constant competition for limited construction dollars with every other jurisdiction in our state. Partnerships with private firms to build roads and levy tolls shifts the burden of up front financing from taxpayers to private companies, who will ultimately recoup their entire investment through user fees (tolls, for example). If we want free lanes, then the state will have to bite the bullet and increase the gas tax. With increased vehicle efficiency, the demand for gasoline will continue to decline over time. Accordingly, the per/gallon gasoline tax would have to increase simply to generate stable revenue for construction and maintenance of roads.
The Governor and his Department of Transportation should be leading a comprehensive public discussion about our choices. A discussion which ultimately results in the introduction of legislation to address funding for roads at a realistic level, from both public and private sources. Truly, now is the time to think outside the box if we want an affordable, workable transportation mix including roads and public transit. Roads by themselves are only one part of a larger answer for an urban center like Charlotte.