Business

McAlpine helps put brakes on I-77 tolls

McAlpine helps put brakes on I-77 tolls

By Dave Yochum. A modest, low-key guy with the mind of a CFO and the heart of an entrepreneur brought the Lake Norman business community together at Michael Waltrip Raceworld in late May to discuss plans to widen I-77 with tolls.

If John “Mac” McAlpine V seemed to be preaching to the choir, he was. In more ways than one.

He comes from a long line of Presbyterian preachers: John I was a Davidson College grad and minister at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian in Charlotte. John III was the minister at Steele Creek Presbyterian Church.

And between 150 and 175 business owners flocked to the “Emergency Call to Action” at Michael Waltrip Raceworld. Were it not for the wait, virtually all of them would have shook his hand, just like one does after a good sermon on Sunday.

The executives who attended ranged from bankers—the CEO of Aquesta—and Realtors to manufacturers and racing team owners. McAlpine, director of electronics at Michael Waltrip, organized the meeting from scratch in a matter of days.

The Cornelius resident laid out a careful outline of what the Cintra-NCDOT toll plan will do to the Lake Norman economy. No one argued with a single point. No less than NC Sen. Jeff Tarte, Rep. John Bradford and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett endorsed the details in McAlpine’s presentation, and said, given substantial support from the business community, they would do their best to overturn the 50-year contract that was just signed.

The costs are enormous, no matter what happens. Overturning the agreement could exact a toll on taxpayers of $20 million to $100 million, McAlpine said, based on information put out by Cintra and local studies. The cost of Cintra tolling, however, could run upwards of $13 billion.

“There has been a lot of denial around what the consequences are. A lot of people who are in places of power…it is difficult for them to be for tolls. It is going to be difficult for their employees. But it keeps marching on, the monster keeps getting bigger and bigger. I personally couldn’t take it any more,” he said.

Of course, widespread public criticism has helped political leaders change their thinking on tolls. Then, too, Gov. Pat McCrory’s $3.2 billion infrastructure package—it does not include I-77 in Lake Norman—helped more people come around to Kurt Naas’ thinking.

Naas, the owner of A-Line Corp., in Concord, is the founder of Wideni-77.org, the two-and-a-half-year-old anti-toll group that has filed a lawsuit to stop the Cintra-NCDOT plan.

He and a rapidly growing group of supporters have toiled in a fire and brimstone way to fight the tolls. In early May Widen I-77 members were part of demonstrations on the Exit 28 overpass.

“I was dumbfounded when nobody had any criticism at the summit,” said the 37-year-old McAlpine, who earned his undergraduate degree from Clemson in computer engineering in 2001, and a  master’s of science in industrial management from Clemson in 2003.

His case was solid. No fire and brimstone.

Here are some of the key points he made:

The I-77 express lanes do not have intercity commerce in mind, nor do they provide an option for semi-trucks. It means distribution companies will look for greener pastures.

There is no direct access planned for area hospitals at Exit 33 or Exit 23.

Barricades and limited access will affect on-off passage at Exits 28 and 30. Cars in the toll lane will not have the option of exiting at Davidson or the “Lake Norman’s Main Street,” Catawba Avenue, without passing through congested traffic.

The new Exit 27 interchange at Westmoreland Road—it’s part of the bonus fund allocation granted to gain support of the toll plan—will likely be the new North Meck hot spot. “Exit 27 will be where it’s at,” McAlpine said in the vernacular.

For rank and file business owners, it’s a different story. “The express lanes represent a real time productivity auction,” McAlpine said. “Only businesses with a high time value will be able to afford usage.”

McAlpine will be the guest speaker at Business Today’s Newsmakers Breakfast 7:30 am June 16 at The Peninsula Club in Cornelius. Sponsors include Aquesta Bank, ReMax Executive at the Lake, Sperry Van Ness Commercial Real Estate Advisors, Davidson Wealth Management, KS AudioVideo and The McIntosh Law Firm. $12 includes a full country breakfast. Call 704-895-1335 to RSVP. Doors open at 7:15; hard close by 9 am.

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