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Hastened NCDOT-Cintra deal an ‘incredible’ insult to voters, Gilroy says

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May 21. Amidst the background of the Exit 28 Ridiculousness Facebook page whose profile picture is “Cintra Sucks Money Out Of The Local Economy,” more local business leaders are starting to speak out on their own, independent of any chamber of commerce.

ENGEL

ENGEL

Indeed, a petition calling for an independent review of the now-signed 50-year deal with Cintra, a Spanish company, has been signed by such local business luminaries as Jim Engel, CEO of Aquesta Bank; Larry Johns CFO of Michael Waltrip Racing; Scott Lampe, CFO of Hendrick Motorsports; and Kelley Earnhardt, of JR Motorsports.

They’re joining the likes of business people like Vince Winegardner, of the NorthCross Master Owners Association, and Widen I-77 anti-toll activist and Concord business owner Kurt Naas, not to mention Cornelius Town Commissioner Dave Gilroy, the managing partner of a North Carolina-based financial services consulting firm, Scale Finance.

About NCDOT’s decision to speed up the signing of the 50-year contract with Cintra, Gilroy said: “We are all shell-shocked. NCDOT’s actions demonstrate their incredible arrogance and recklessness. This out-of-control bureaucracy has just delivered an incredible “—- you” to the citizens they are supposed to be serving.” Gilroy’s comments were emailed, not casual, not off the cuff. He later asked that the comments be changed to “an incredible go to hell.”

The governing boards of Huntersville, Davidson, Cornelius, Mooresville, Iredell and Mecklenburg in one form or another have asked for a “time-out” before the Cintra deal was signed.

The Cintra deal has been perhaps the biggest controversy Lake Norman has seen for a quarter of a century, complete with demonstrations last fall on West Catawba and earlier this month on the Exit 28 bridge.

An online poll conducted by Cornelius Today and Business Today indicates that 97 percent of some 350 people responding do not believe that NCDOT is “operating with transparency, integrity and in the best interest of our citizens.”

NCDOT spokesman Warren Cooksey did not comment.

GILROY

GILROY

“I expect we’ll see several of these bozos hired by Cintra or even led away in hand-cuffs as the rest of the I-77 tolls story unfolds in the coming years,” Gilroy said in a emailed statement.

The new petition circulating at high levels in the Lake Norman business community says I-77 “is the critical transportation artery for the Lake Norman region. Our employees, customers and suppliers depend on this road every day. As our region grows, the congestion on this road continues to worsen, affecting our business and quality of life.”

Cornelius-based commercial real estate broker Tom McMahon of Sperry Van Ness, said he will travel to Raleigh on Tuesday to support Naas’ and Widen I-77’s heretofore lonely fight—at least among the leadership elite—against toll lanes.

McMahon criticized local chambers of commerce for taking a back seat on a critical issue.

“I am disgusted our local chambers have not put more of an effort to support the opposition effort of no tolls,” McMahon said.

“Even though the Lake Norman Chamber is supposed to be non-partisan and supposed to be for the businesses and for quality of life, I think the chamber chose personally to stay away from this because it has become such a political hot button,” he said.

Bill Russell, in an email April 28, said the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce’s position on express lanes has been consistent from 2013 to 2015.

“As you are aware, the Chamber has served on the Lake Norman Transportation Commission as a non-voting member since its inception (I believe in 2010). I serve as that representative. While we have no official vote, and the LNTC is largely an advisory board which allows the four lake communities to share dialogue and work regionally to prioritize road improvement projects, it does provide us with the opportunity to be a conduit of information to and for approximately 1,000 local businesses. As such, we have monitored Managed Lanes since its introduction several years ago,” he said.

He said the chamber’s official position is: “The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce supports efforts to use from existing sources (Motor Fuel Tax and Vehicle Fees) and through alternative methods for additional funding for roads and transit such as tolls, public private partnerships and design-build financing that are reasonably calculated and expected to lower congestion on roadways in a manner that does not put a disproportionate burden on businesses.”

Political leaders like Thom Tillis, John Bradford and Jeff Tarte at one time or another have supported tolls as the best option to widen I-77.

But as public support has evaporated, so has political support, at least publicly.

Bradford, who voted for toll lanes when he was on the Cornelius Town Board, also asked Gov. McCrory for a “time out” prior to the final contract signing with Cintra. Instead, the NCDOT pushed the signing ahead by 10 days, prompting public outcry and a rare public display of the lack of comity on the Cornelius Town Board Monday night.

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