CRTPO Approves $355M I-77 Widening Project

At tonight’s CRTPO meeting, delegates voted to approve a $355M project to widen I-77 with general purpose lanes from Mooresville to… wait for it… wait for it….

… Statesville.

I’m not making this up.

Background

Every two years CRTPO is required to develop a rolling Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).  The TIP is basically a list of projects that CRTPO submits to NCDOT.  Projects are then scored and ranked state-wide.  Those that score high enough are funded and built.

The TIP is created by regional transportation planners working together in a support organization called the Technical Coordinating Committee.

At their meeting last week, the Technical Coordinating Committee unanimously approved the 2020- 2029 TIP and sent it along to CRTPO for official approval. On the tonight’s agenda was a request to approve the TIP, which includes a $355M project to widen I-77 from NC 150 (Mooresville) to I-40 (Statesville).

Questions

With the I-77 toll cancellation a looming possibility, Cornelius delegate Mike Miltich asked if there could be any changes to the TIP once adopted.  If the toll contract was cancelled and the project completed with general purpose lanes- or simply bought out- CRTPO might have to include a general purpose lane project in the TIP in order to get it completed.  Could we amend the TIP if that happened, or would we have to wait two years for the next TIP?

Well, as it turned out, no one present knew the answer. Chairwoman Vi Lyles asked staff to get back to him.

The TIP also included projects that would widen US21 from Harris Blvd to Catawba Ave. All well and good, said Davidson delegate Beth Cashion, but why not a project to extend US21 across the lake from Cornelius (exit 28) to Mooresville (exit 33)?  “It makes no sense to widen an alternate route with this big gap in the middle,” she said. “I realize building anything over the lake is an arduous process, but we need to start considering it. Otherwise, 10-15 years from now we’ll be saying the same thing.”

Perhaps the most startling admission of this incomprehensible bureaucracy came from Iredell delegate Jeff Neely.  The I-77 widening project is entirely in Iredell county, yet Neely said it makes no sense to “go bombing down the highway at 75 or 80 only to slam into a bottleneck south of us.  We need to fix what’s south of us first, and I would gladly give up this project to do that.”

Electoral Math

Nevertheless, as so often happens with CRTPO, nothing matters except Charlotte. In this case, Lyles asked for a motion to approve. Waxhaw grudgingly made a motion. She then asked for a second.  After an awkward silence, Mineral Springs eventually gave a second.

And then they voted.

Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Iredell, Troutman and three other delegates I didn’t catch voted “against.”

Charlotte, Waxhaw and Mineral Springs voted “for.”  Despite the measure losing the delegate vote 3-8, the measure passed because Charlotte’s vote counts for 46%.

Gaming the System

What’s equally disturbing about this mockery of representative government is the games staff seems to play. The TIP has to be submitted to NCDOT by September 29th.  Staff waited until a mere nine days before the deadline to submit the TIP for a vote, leaving no time for questions or answers or changes. Thus, the vote was basically an exercise in “take it or leave it.”

A similar tactic was employed in 2015.

Back then, with the I-77 toll hurricane in full fury, delegates talked about “how we can improve the process.”  There was no such discussion this time.

Also, at the end of 2015 CRTPO underwent their quadrennial audit by the Feds to ensure the effectiveness of their public involvement process.  The Feds received over 500 universally negative comments, an unprecedented number.

Nevertheless, they re-certified CRTPO.  They recommended CRTPO create a citizen advisory board, a recommendation which CRTPO promptly ignored.

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